Let’s get over ostentatious French terms on California wine!
California producers who name their wines with ersatz French terms fall into two groups, although fundamentally, they share the same trait: pretentiousness. They’re either struggling entrepreneurs with little knowledge of France who hope to hoodwink consumers with what they think is a fancy French vocabulary that will get consumers to pay more than the wine is worth, or else they’re rich gazillionaires who have pied-a-terres in the 3rd arrondissement, wear French shirts and ties and think of themselves as at least semi-French.
Before I go any further, I want to let certain people off the hook. First off is Merry Edwards, who uses “Méthode a L’Ancienne” to suggest her minimalist approach, and Verité, whose French winemaker entitles him to call his wines “La Joie”, “La Muse” and “Le Desir,” although I wouldn’t. I exempt also Roederer Estate’s L’Ermitage; after all, they are owned by Roederer.
But why would an American call something by a French name? Here, in no particular order, are some prime offenders:
Clendenen “Le Bon Ciimat.” You want to suggest this is a particularly good terroir? Say so in English. Lynmar “La Sereinité “ Chardonnay? What’s wrong with a simple Serenity? Sbragia “La Promessa” Zinfandel? How about The Promise? Demetria “Le Belier” Pinot Noir? I don’t know what that means and I don’t care. Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir? Why not just call it reserve? It’s a really good wine, but it’s from California, not Burgundy. Domaine Carneros La Terre Promise Pinot Noir? Come on. Yates Family Vineyard Fleur de Veeder Merlot? Good wine, but we don’t call wines “Fleur” in California. Copain Les Voisins Pinot Noir? Please explain what you mean. Brander Au Naturel Sauvignon Blanc? Why not just say “unoaked” and respect the language? Arrowood Reserve Speciale Chardonnay? Memo to company: We don’t spell “special” with an “e”, and in the English language, adjectives precede nouns. Joseph Swan Cuvée de Trois Pinot Noir? WTF? Just tell us where the grapes are from. Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay? Thanks for the toast, now translate, please. William Knuttel Le Petit Malin? Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc? It’s just a white Meritage, get over it. Daou Chemin de Fleurs? What’s that all about? Birichino Vieilles Vignes Grenache? Why not just say “old vines”? Lasseter Paysage and Amoureux? How stuck up is that? Harmonique Elegancé Pinot Noir? What’s with that accent mark? Andrew Murray Espérance? Dear Andrew, it’s a pretty good GSM but why not just call it that? Ditto Koehler Les 3 Cépages. Rutz Maison Grand Cru Chardonnay? Does French make it sound better than it is? RN Estate, why not just tell us what your Cuvée des Trois Cepages is made from? And for that matter, what about your “Symphonie de Cepages”? What are you trying to prove? Valley of the Moon, what’s wrong with “Sangiovese rosé” instead of Rosato di Sangiovese? (Okay, it’s not French, but you get the idea.) Capture, what’s “Les Pionniers” on your Sauvignon Blanc? Terre Rouge, does “Les Côtes de l’Ouest” mean West Slope? Just say so. Landy Family, your “Melange de Vin Rouge Estate” is an honest red blend; don’t try to hide behind presumptuous language. Suncé Les Trois Amis? Just tell us the varieties with an honest name. Collier Falls Syrah du Soleil? What are you trying to say about the Sun? Lucas & Lewellen Cote Del Sol Cabernet Sauvignon, please stop pretending and come up with something authentic. Jeff Gordon Ella Sofia Joie de Vivre? What do your NASCAR fans have to say about that French-fried silliness? Hunt Cellars Bon Vivant Cabernet Sauvignon? Oh, please. While we’re on the subject, let’s recognize poofy Spanish and Italian names: Lynmar’s Terra de Promissio Pinot Noir, Benziger’s de Coelo Terra Neuma Pinot, Bella Luna Riserva Bellicaia Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese.
What’s wrong with English? Would a self-respecting French producer ever call a wine “My Dear Sister” or “Little Friend” or “Child of the Sun”? I don’t think so. To the critic, these Eurocentric names suggest a fancified, phony effort to boost the price, a kind of self-loathing when you come right down to it that masquerades as something it feels better about. Some Americans think anything with a French name is better than anything with an honest English name, but just the opposite is true. We should get over the obsession with France and understand that California wines need pay homage to nothing, except their own terroir.