Monday, March 14, 2011

Rant: Protecting Champagne From The U.S.

The statistic stunned me as I never thought the problem was so extensive. Especially in a country that can be so relentless in protecting trademark issues. There does not seem to be any legitimate reason for this situation, only a mercenary desire to deceive consumers to increase sales.

More than 50% of the sparkling wine sold in the U.S. is incorrectly labeled as Champagne.

Would you have thought it was over 50%? It is such a large amount and something needs to be done to address the issue.  It is now the Fifth Anniversary of the U.S.-European Union Wine Accords, where an agreement was signed to end the mislabeling of U.S. wines, including the wrongful issue of "Champagne" and "Port." But the agreement also permitted existing labels to be “grandfathered in,” thus leading to the astonishing statistic I earlier mentioned. 

The Champagne Bureau is leading a new effort to change this, and has sent a joint letter to members of Congress calling for truth-in-labeling for wines.  Over 40 chefs, sommeliers and wine educators signed this letter.  I am not sure how much impact this letter will actually have, but it is at least a positive step forward. I am sure there are other options available as well.       

Just because something is legally permitted, does not mean it is appropriate to do. Sure, some U.S. wineries can legally call their sparkling wine "Champagne," but that does not mean they should. True Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, and that designation deserves legal protection. U.S. wineries calling their products "Champagne" only confuse and deceive consumers who may not know any better.  So why deceive these consumers?  Apparently to make more sales from consumers who think they are actually buying real Champagne.

To any U.S. winery that labels its sparkling wine as Champagne, please give us a valid reason why you do so. It is insufficient to say you do so just because you legally can do so.  Explain why you believe it is valid to deceive consumers into believing they are purchasing real Champagne when they are not.  I don't expect any such wineries though will respond.

Maybe a letter writing campaign should be directed at those U.S. wineries labeling their wines as Champagne, asking them to remove that term from their labels.  If they hear from enough people, maybe they will reconsider their position.  I know there are other steps that can be taken, but maybe the letters would be a good first step.


Damien said...

Hi Richard,

Interesting post. Actually, it's more than that, as you explained. Although the producer may legally be entitled to use the word Champagne, it's actually counter-productive for any credible sparkling wine producer to do so.

I'll explain why: While all non-Champagne producing regions continue to use the word Champagne to encourage sales of sparkling wine, the region and producers of Champagne benefit by all of this reinforcing, free publicity of the omnipresent nature of sparkling wine being known as Champagne. Loosely illustrated: more publicity equals more awareness, which means easier sales!

From my perspective, I can't understand for a second why any producer would want to make sales easier for their competitors at their own expense.

It's a hard task to change, but remember that New world producers adopted simple, varietal labelling (as opposed to European regional labelling- Burgundy, Moselle, Lambrusco) as a standard practice around 30 years ago. Since that time, European wine sales have fallen dramatically, at the expense of New world wine sales.

Is that the only explanation for the change? No.

But while producers continue to remind the world that Champagne is the reference for all sparkling wine, the Champenois will be able to continue charging more for their wines at the expense of New World producers with poor marketing skills.

Sue said...

Champagne can only refer to the Champagne region - not to other sparklers such as Prosecco or Cava or to sparkling wines produced outside that French region. It is misleading and I believe there needs to be more/better education about the other sparkling wines. Just went to a very detailed and informative session put on by the Boston Wine School about Prosecco DOCG for example.

Susan Holaday