French concern over use of proprietary names like Champagne has been fermenting, no pun intended, for decades. The French, in my opinion, rightfully hold that Champagne is a region in France and that only sparkling wines from that region have the right to carry the name.
In 2006, after trade negotiations between the United States and the 25-member European Union, the U.S. agreed to drop place names from American labels of any wines exported to EU counties, and to ban the use of such place names on all new future American wines. Some American wineries using European place names were grandfathered in, and could continue to use place names as long as these wines were not exported to EU countries.
In the 2006 negotiations, the EU also expressed concern over the use of other traditional words, like "chateau," "classic," "fine," "noble," "ruby," "tawny," "vintage" and "clos" (the French word for closed, walled garden), but agreed to continued use of these traditional words for a period of three years.
Last year, the EU announced it was terminating that agreement and would no longer continue to allow wines exported to EU countries to use traditional words like "chateau" and "vintage."
If negotiations cannot resolve this issue, in California alone, there are 14 different wineries with "chateau" in their company name, and nine with "clos." Those wineries would have to change their names if they wish to continue exporting wines to EU countries.
Those currently exporting to EU countries do so because their brand has trademark approval. Many winemakers fear these trademarks will be rescinded, and negotiations to have them reapproved will become so protracted they will lose current market shares.
EU negotiators in the past have tried to restrict importation of New World wines that do not adhere to their certain, traditional winemaking practices.
Not only does this group want to dictate how we name our wineries, but more ridiculously, they seek to dictate how our wines are made. Could it be they want us to grow a lot of lousy grapes so our government can pay subsidies to have the plonk distilled into ethanol?
Think of the far-reaching affects of such protectionism: Will Clos Du Val, a very fine California winery established in 1972 and owned by a French family, have to change its name to Walled Enclosure of the Valley? Would you buy a Walled Enclosure of the Valley cabernet?
If "classic" is forbidden, as in "classic cabernet," is "classy" acceptable? Do such prohibitions extend to food items as well? If so, you can kiss your Kraft Food's Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard goodbye.
This would be laughable were it not for the fact this comes at a time of growth in U.S. wine exports, which surpassed the billion-dollar milestone for the first time in 2008. U.S. wineries for years have fought restrictive trade practices to enter what is now the EU market. Prohibiting use of classic words like "chateau," "vintage" and "noble" is yet another example of the EU trying to prop up its wine producers, which have generally failed to adapt to the changing taste of wine consumers.
We will have to wait and see how this all plays out. Fortunately, about 75 percent of our domestic production is consumed in this country. EU exports account for about 50 percent of all wine exports to other countries.
Washington State's Chateau Ste. Michelle has made significant inroads into the EU market.
The winery has the misfortune of having "chateau" in its name, as well as "Ste. Michelle," a corruption of Saint Michael, the French patron saint of mariners.
If this company should choose to use only English words on its labels in order to meet EU regulations, would it then become "The House of Mike?"