Wednesday, October 5, 2005
What difference does it make where a wine comes from? I mean, as long as it tastes good, who cares what it says on the label, right?
Well, wrong. This is America. Consumers have rights. We have truth in labeling laws. We expect some level of integrity. We would have a problem if some huckster grew red grapes on a hillside in Arkansas and labeled his resulting wine â€śNapa Valley Red.â€? And I can assure you, so would winemakers in Napa Valley â€” and their lawyers.
Or course, it was U.S. winemakers who stole, then bastardized, the names of prestigious winegrowing regions of France, i.e. Hearty â€śBurgundy,â€? Mountain â€śChablis,â€? Ohio “Champagneâ€? and California “Port.â€? But gosh, never mind about THAT â€¦
Now, a Washington D.C.-based organization calling itself the Center for Wine Origins (its web site was still under construction as of 10-4-05 but was supposed to be up and running soon) has launched a three-year â€ślocation mattersâ€? campaign. The first magazine ads are showing up already â€” I found one in my copy of “Food and Wine” magazine that arrived at my house on Monday (10-1-05). The campaign is funded, interestingly, by
the European Union â€” yes, the EU â€” and by consortia of Champagne growers in France and Port growers in Portgual. Sherry producers from Spain will join the effort next year.
(Winemakers in Napa Valley, Oregon and Washington State, which joined with those same foreign producers in July in a joint declaration to help protect wine place names, havenâ€™t ponied up to the Wine Origins campaign. Maybe theyâ€™re planning their own campaign, or maybe theyâ€™re too preoccupied with paying their own attorneys to fight all these battles in courtrooms.)
Wine Origins spokeswoman Miranda Duncan said the goal is to educate Americans that origin matters when it comes to wine. The organization released survey data that suggests a wineâ€™s origin ranks second only to â€śrecommendation from a friendâ€? among factors most important to American wine consumers in making wine purchase decisions. Origin was more important than the wineâ€™s brand name, price or recommendation from a store, the survey suggested.
â€śThe bottom line is consumers do not like being deceived,â€? Duncan said.
Of course, wine marketers have been doing that for decades, here and overseas. I wrote a column for the “Dayton Daily News” 15 years ago on the phenomenon of foreign winemakers putting very, very American-sounding labels on their wines (Marcus James from Brazil, Walnut Crest from Chile, Ashewood from what was then Yugoslavia). Some seemed to go out of their way on their labels to hide their places of origin, to pass themselves off as California wines. And as recently as summer 2004, the California Supreme Court ruled against a company that was making wines with â€śNapaâ€? on the label but which contained few or no Napa grapes. The lawsuit was brought by those who DID grow Napa grapes.
Seems like itâ€™s high time to put a stop to the foolishness. The U.S. and European Union signed an agreement earlier this year that opened up each otherâ€™s wine markets, but the agreement sidestepped the thorny issue of origin name-stealing, saving that debate for another day, according to Wine Origins officials. Seems like the common-sense thing to do would be to call a moratorium on future stealing, co-opting and bastardization of wine places of origin, while recognizing itâ€™s impossible to reverse the stealing, co-opting and bastardization that has already occurred. “Grandfather in” all the existing poachers, unjust as that may be, but draw the line today. No more.
That way, folks can keep their Hearty Burgundy, but weâ€™ll avoid the specter of New York State “Bordeaux” — or that Napa Valley Red from Arkansas.
What do YOU think?