Vine Talk: Bubble war - Is it Champagne or sparkling wine?

Tue Jun 8, 2010 7:32pm EDT
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By Edward Deitch

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Wine labeling remains a highly confusing affair.

The challenges range from the place-specific labels on most French, Italian and Spanish wines (such as Montrachet, Chianti and Rioja) that require a good deal of knowledge to understand what's actually in the bottle, to the continuing use of "Champagne" as a generic word for sparkling wines.

The last time I checked, Duck Walk Vineyards had not joined Pol Roger, Moet or Bollinger as a genuine Champagne producer.

No, Duck Walk makes a sparkling wine in New York, on the east end of Long Island, and when I recently came across a sign on the road advertising the release of its first "Champagne," it made me curious about the state of the sparkling wine war that has been going on for decades over the use of the Champagne name.

"The misuse of place names to sell wine is as old as the American wine industry," Carol Robertson noted in an article on the subject in Business Law Today, a news magazine published by the American Bar Association.

"Borrowing the name of a well-regarded wine was a shorthand way for new winemakers to impart some of the cachet of a better-known beverage to a new American product."

Korbel, she points out, has been using "Champagne" to describe its California sparkling wine since 1882

In 2006, after years of negotiation between the United States and the European Union, the U.S. Congress passed legislation prohibiting the future use of Champagne and 15 other so-called semi-generic place names such as Burgundy and Chianti, although it did not stop the practice by wineries that had been using them before the law, so the Korbels of the world were "grandfathered." Then, just a few months ago, the Long Island wine region became one of the latest signatories to the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin, "a global movement aimed at ensuring wine place names are protected and not abused or miscommunicated to consumers," as a press release by the coalition described it.   Continued...

<p>A woman fills glasses with sparkling wine at the Vinitaly wine expo in Verona April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Paolo Bona</p>