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Friday Fishwrap


We say “Chateau,” Europe says “Shut up!”

The spat between the European Union and American wineries flared up again last week, as a group of members of Congress teamed together to urge the U.S. Trade Representative, the nation’s top trade negotiator and principal advisor to the President, to clear the “traditional expressions” logjam with the European Union.

So-called “traditional expressions” are words on labels. They include chateau, clos, classic, noble, vintage, sur lie, champagne and ruby, among others. The E.U. long has objected to their use on American wines, claiming they poach on traditional European territory and mislead consumers. Back in 2006, the U.S. agreed to stop using the terms, but under a “peace-making clause,” wineries using them at that time were grandfathered in, and allowed to continue their use for 3 years.

That 3 year exemption ended in March. The expectation was that the E.U. would issue 2-year renewals, in order to further the peace-making period, while the hard issues were hammered out. “But they didn’t renew it,” says a source with close ties to the industry. It is this impasse that the U.S. Trade Representative is now being pressured to resolve by the politicians.

(For a good background story on this issue, see this Wines & Vines article.)

I asked the industry source what is likely to happen next. “It remains unresolved what the people with trademarks are supposed to do, like Chateau Montelena or Korbel [Champagne Cellars]. So we probably have a case for the World Trade Organization,” the international body that resolves trade disputes between nations.

My guess is that every winery currently using traditional expressions will be allowed to keep them. After all, nobody expects Clos du Val to change their name! I also suspect the list of words the E.U. objects to will be narrowed. I mean, sur lie? Come on.

Beckstoffer’s big Mendocino gamble

“Are we really too early?” That’s the question top grower Andy Beckstoffer asked rhetorically when he was quoted, in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, concerning his planting of 300 acres of organic Chardonnay vineyards by the banks of the Russian River in Hopland, which is in central Mendocino County.

Andy B. is one of the smartest guys in the industry, a veteran who came up through the ranks and bears the scars to prove it. (I have a chapter on him in my book, New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff.)

Andy’s question concerns, of course, when the Recession will end. Since nobody knows, it’s something of a gamble to be developing a big new vineyard at this time. Beckstoffer’s optimism runs in his genes, but it’s based also on his assumptions that (a) downturns always end, and (b) inland Mendocino County has been underrated as a source of premium wine.

I remember when I first tasted a Chardonnay from the old Jepson winery, which was made from the same area as Beckstoffer’s new vineyard. I thought it was one of the best I’d ever had. Chardonnay remains America’s favorite white wine, and there’s no reason to expect that will ever change. So, if Beckstoffer can keep his prices moderate — and if the wineries that buy his grapes don’t charge too much — his gamble is likely to pay off. I’d expect the Chardonnays to retail in the $10-$15 range.

  1. DeepVine says:


    Am I the only one that finds this ridiculous? Do European producers really think they will sell more wine becuase other producers will not be allowed to use the words “sur lie” (which has no geographical connotation whatsoever)? And let’s face it, it is all about selling wine and protectionism. An interesting thought… maybe in return they will sign an agreement that they will not use the word “Jeans” unless the garment was produced in the US… or how about striking out the word “Hamburger” from every menu on the European continent, not to mention the word “weekend” which is used by French people on a regular basis. What about “Rock and Roll” or “Jazz”… surely they are American terms. Wake up Europe, it is a global market and you will have to compete on quality and price like everyone else (great lessons from the US car industry if anyone is interested…).

  2. I am wondering how this deal even got to this point. Who the hell gave Europe rights to words like Chateau which have a meaning in English. As for sur lies, if we are to give up European phrasings that have neither geograhic nor qualitative connotations, then the US negotiators who made this deal three years ago must be the same folks who believed, without proof, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

    This is a deal that should never have come into being in the first place.

  3. Charlie, I guess this is what happens in a world economy where we’re all connected, everyone’s a member of the WTO, and all voices have a say!

  4. It would be rather like Gordon Brown staking claim to the Anglican words, Port, Sherry, Hock, Rhenish, or Claret. Bon chance, Euroninnies.

  5. You are of course right, Steve. And I am guessing that you have no problem with the restriction on geographic names like Champagne, Sauternes, Chianti, Burgundy. I don’t really care one way or the other about Clos, but it seems to me that Chateau is not exclusively a French word. And when it comes to the descroption of technique as opposed to the use of place names, that is where the line should have been drawn.

    I am also perfectly happy to see the phrase “Methode Champenoise” discontinued in this country as it has been for some years now for sparkling wine made outside of Champagne. The funny thing, of course, is that long after it was banned in Europe, some of the European-owned houses continued to use it here. The Domaine Chandon website describes their bubblies as having been made by the “Champagne Method” and aged “sur lees”, a bastardization of “sur lie” that sur-ly embarrasses people in both languages.

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