- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

LE MESNIL-sur-OGER, France Delphine Cazals slowly walked the rows of her family's vineyard in France's Champagne region where she grew up.
Stopping here and there to examine the neatly tended vines planted by her father and grandfather, each laden with bunches of ripe chardonnay grapes, she said she was satisfied.
The weather had been marginal, as it often is in this region 90 miles northeast of Paris: late spring frosts, and too much rain, usually coming at the wrong times.
This would not be a vintage year, but the last few days in the week before the September harvest had been sunny and warm enough to "finish the grapes."
"The skin is very thin this year. The grapes are sweet and enough acid. They will make a very fine wine," said Mrs. Cazals, a petite blonde in her early 30s who is one of the youngest and one of very few female cellar masters in Champagne.
When her father died several years ago, it fell to Mrs. Cazals to oversee every aspect of Claude Cazals champagne production and taste and blend the "still" white wines that will eventually be sold as the finest blanc de blanc made only from her white chardonnay grapes, grown only in her village, one of just 17 areas given the highest designation: Grand Cru. Her "house" sells some 90,000 bottles a year.
Asked what she thought of U.S. winemakers such as E.&J.; Gallo and Korbel who label their sparkling wines "champagne," her face darkened and her eyes flashed anger.
"It is a lie, and I hate liars. It is fraud, like buying a Cartier watch on the street. Americans make very good sparkling wines, but it is not champagne. Champagne can only be made here," she said. She searched her dictionary for just the right word: "It is vexing," she declared.
In so pastoral a setting, in one of the most beautiful regions of France, it is difficult for an American visitor to imagine the growing bewilderment and resentment the winemakers of France feel toward U.S. producers who, for marketing advantage, use the names of their homes Champagne, Burgundy, Chablis to give cachet to their low-end plonk.
The U.S. winemakers most often mentioned include Andre Champagne and Hearty Burgundy both made by Gallo Korbel Champagne and Inglenook Chablis.
French winemakers compare them to Chinese companies that pirate American software.
What's in a name? Does a sparkling wine called by another name taste as sweet, or sell as well?
"It is theft of our intellectual property," said Bruno Paillard, who makes champagne in Reims. "How would your winemakers like it is we called our wines Napa and Sonoma or Russian River. It hasn't happened yet but it will if the Americans do not stop using our names."
American winemakers, who have been using the European names for 200 years, say the names have become generic like Kleenex is to tissue and claim their use is legal.
"What do you tell Great Western Champagne in New York, that has been making champagne there for 100 years? That they can't use the name anymore?" asked Bob Kalik, a Washington attorney who represents U.S. winemakers.
With either marketing genius or sleight of hand, depending on one's point of view, it is true that Great Western was first produced in 1870 in Reims Reims, N.Y. The producer changed the name of his mailroom in New York to match Champagne's most famous city.
Many of France's champagne makers have lived and worked in the winemaking industry in California.
Some, like Mr. Paillard, have children married to winemakers in the United States. But from the smallest family houses in Vinay and Moussy to the large multinational firms in Epernay and Reims, all agreed that their names and hard-won reputations are being besmirched.
"Ninety-eight percent of France loves America, and good winemakers do not use our names, but a few unethical, arrogant Americans are giving ammunition to the 2 percent who don't like the United States," said Mr. Paillard.
Other French winemakers find it baffling.
"We do not understand why [some winemakers in the United States] would do this. It is our name. It is not normal," said Philippe Crete of Moussy, who grows his own grapes and makes and sells just 20,000 bottles a year.
"If you are proud of your wine, use your own name. Do not hide behind ours," said Sophie Piquet, speaking for Moet & Chandon, one of the world's largest houses, in Epernay.
Wine has been made in Champagne since the Romans ruled. It is an inhospitable region, with bitter winters, late cold snaps, wet summers and a layer of infertile soil that covers large deposits of chalk created by the shells of dead sea creatures as the ocean alternately flooded and retreated since time began.
In fact, Champagne is at the northernmost latitude where grapes can be grown. If the average annual temperature were one degree cooler, grapes would not ripen enough to make wine.
Despite the harsh conditions, some of the rolling hillsides face in exactly the right direction to capture the sunlight. Some shield the vineyards from the wind, and all are warmed by the heat stored each day in the earth. And the vines, with roots that extend 40 to 60 feet into the earth, drink from water stored in the spongy chalk.
For all these reasons, U.S. wine critics agree that champagne can only be made in Champagne.
"Let's be clear about this: Champagne comes from France," writes fiction writer and wine critic Jay McInerney in his book "Bacchus & Me," where he goes on to compare genuine champagne to diamonds and other sparkling wines to cubic zirconia.
In "French Wine for Dummies," under the heading of "When champagne is not champagne" wine critic Ed McCarthy writes that the label must say "Product of France" and it must cost at least $15, or the U.S. consumer is buying an imitation.
"Champagne is a term often used to describe any sparkling wine. This is neither accurate nor honest," writes Oz Clarke in his "Essential Wine Book."
"The struggle gives our wines its unique character. If the soil were better, if the climate were less harsh, if the grapes were easier to grow, the wines would not have the same complexity, elegance and finesse," said Ghislain de Montgolfier, head of Champagne Bollinger, in Ay, which is home to a dozen or more of France's highest-rated champagne houses.
The specifics of each microclimate and the soil composition create what French winemakers call "terroir."
And while Champagne's expertise and experience has been exported to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Chile and California, where first-rate sparkling wines are produced, the climate and soil in each tiny parcel of land cannot be duplicated abroad.
The "terroir" of Champagne, France, is as unique as the "terroir" of Napa, Calif., and each produces a unique wine.
"We all know that there are very good sparkling wines made in the United States," said Christian Pol Roger, of Pol Roger, the prestigious house that supplied Winston Churchill. "But it is not champagne. Champagne can only be made here."
According to legend, in the 17th century the blind Benedictine monk Dom Perignon turned still wine into bubbly with an accidental second fermentation. Upon tasting it, he declared he was tasting the "stars" and spent the rest of his life in service to God perfecting the happy accident.
Today, the creation of champagne is governed by a thick book of regulations that dictate everything from which varieties of grapes can be planted only chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier to exactly how and when the vines may by cut, tied and fertilized, to the precise day the harvest can begin. The regulations determine exactly how many pounds can be harvested from each acre, how many gallons of juice can be pressed from each load of grapes, which grapes and juices can be blended into which types of champagne and how long each type must be aged. The rules are not suggestions. Failure to follow any one of the regulations means the wine may not be labeled champagne.
And no sparkling wine made in Europe outside the Champagne region is permitted to use the term champagne.
Burgundy and Alsace call their bubbly "cremant." Italy has a growing market for its "prosecco." And Spain, which called its sparkling wine "champagne" until joining the European Union, now sells more of its celebratory wine under the name of "cava" than all the champagne from Champagne.
The problem with the United States grew out of cultural differences. In Europe, wine has always been produced and sold according to its origin, a system that was codified in France in 1927, when each plot, based on hundreds of years of growing experience, was ranked, ordered and classified according to the Appellation d'Origine Controllee, or AOC.
"These rules were not made to restrict Americans. We first made these rules to restrict ourselves," said Mr. Montgolfier, whose oak-barreled Bollinger is the choice of James Bond as well as the ditzy women in the British comedy "Absolutely Fabulous."
From colonial times, the United States had little wine culture, outside immigrant families who made their own reds and whites, calling them by the generic names from home: chianti, burgundy or port.
According to Paul Lukacs, who wrote "American Vintage," a recently published history of U.S. winemaking, since the days of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both winemakers some have tried to create a European appreciation of wine in the United States.
However, from the end of Prohibition until the early 1960s, most U.S. wine was made with little attention to craft, fortified with extra alcohol and marketed as a cheap way to imbibe.
In the early 1960s, Americans began to take wine a bit more seriously. Large producers of bulk wines slapped generic names on bottles and the wine-and-cheese party was born.
It was at that time that Chablis, a French region famed for its superb white and red wines, became synonymous with cheap white.
Gallo's Hearty Burgundy an inexpensive table wine of undetermined origin or variety is still one of the top-selling reds in the world. As much as 35 percent of last year's wine sales in the United States was bulk jug and box wine generics.
Today, U.S. appreciation of wine and food is far more sophisticated than it was 40 years ago, and artisan winemakers from California to New York and Maryland are making and marketing their wines according to their own concept of "terrior." They no longer use names appropriated from Europe.
A Sonoma wine is recognized as different from a Napa of the same grape variety, and consumers will pay top dollar for wines that reflect their origin.
As a result, U.S. winemakers staked out legal rights to their terroir, so that their own names cannot be taken.
"They don't use our names, and we do not use words like chablis, burgundy and champagne to describe our wines, because we do not live there," said Harry Peterson-Nedry, of Chelhalem Vineyards in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
While Americans would never submit to the rigid top-down control that is taken for granted in European winemaking, since 1983 a system called the American Viticultural Area has established a number of geographic markers.
"We have the same kind of laws here in the United States. If you bottle a wine here and label it Napa, it has to be from Napa," said Pierre Rovani, who writes for "Wine Advocate," the most respected U.S. wine publication because it accepts no advertising.
"If you grow onions 50 feet outside the zone of Vidalia, Georgia, you can grow the same onion, but you cannot call it Vidalia. Americans using French appellation names is hypocrisy. If a Frenchman tried to call his wine Napa, you can bet he'd be hauled into court," Mr. Rovani said.
At Boordy Vineyards just outside Baltimore, Rob Deford and his family have been making wine since 1965. He makes several award-winning wines, including a silky cabernet sauvignon with a balance of wood and fruit.
His sparkling wines are served in some of the area's finest restaurants, and last year his wine was served at a dinner gathering of some of the nation's leading wine connoisseurs.
He does not use the word champagne on his label and is proud of his wine's Maryland origins.
"My sparkling is made following the traditional champagnois methods to the letter, but they don't put Hydes, Maryland, on their labels and I don't put champagne on mine," Mr. Broody said.
The French say the use of their names confuses American customers, but U.S. wine merchants disagree.
While the Gallo Web site describes its Andre Champagne at $4 a bottle as the nation's best-selling bubbly, anyone even remotely acquainted with wine knows that a decent American sparkling wine, much less a real French champagne, cannot be bought for less than $15.
"None of the sparkling wine on my shelves says champagne unless it comes from Champagne, France," said Rick Genderson, owner of Schneider's Wine and Spirits on Capitol Hill. "No reputable U.S. maker uses the name champagne."


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