- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

U.S. winemakers acknowledge that while it is legal, it is unfair to use the names of European towns and regions like Champagne, Burgundy and Chablis to label cheap American-made wines.
But they also accuse the Europeans of erecting unfair trade barriers to keep American wine from European consumers.
What's more, they pledge to continue using the fuss over European names as leverage, until the trade barriers are lifted.
One such barrier involves calling wine-making techniques widely used in the United States either objectionable to European standards and even unsafe a practice that causes their American counterparts to bristle.
"I am at a complete loss to understand why winemaking practices used in the United States are not acceptable in Europe, except for erecting barriers to trade," said Rob Deford, owner of Boordy Wines in Hydes, Md., and former president of the American Vintners Association.
For example, certain styles of European wines require aging in expensive hand-crafted oak barrels, but enterprising U.S. winemakers have discovered it easier and far less expensive to store the wine in stainless steel vats and add a woody flavor by throwing in a handful of wood chips to be filtered out when the wine is bottled.
"In the long term, the wine has to be as natural as possible," said Ghislain de Montgolfier, head of Champagne Bollinger in Ay, France. "I try to make the wine my grapes give me. If you use technology, slowly you move away from the natural product to something totally artificial, where you won't even need grapes."
Balderdash, say American vintners.
"Winemaking is a process. Wine is just properly spoiled grapes," said Bill Nelson, vice president of the American Vintners Association, which represents hundreds of large and small U.S. winemakers.
"The French also process their wine they add sugar to increase the alcohol. They approve of the old technology for minimal changes. We use modern technology to correct some of the imbalances. In Southern France where it is warm they want to use these technologies, too," Mr. Nelson said.
For almost 20 years, U.S. trade negotiators have been working with their European counterparts to overcome Europe's non-tariff trade barriers.
Jim Murphy, assistant U.S. trade representative, said that the United States is willing to phase out the use of European place names like Champagne.
"We would forego the use of semi-generic names, but in return, and this is not quid pro quo, it is a negotiation, what will Europe give up to get the names back?" he told a recent conference in Washington on wine, trademark law and intellectual property that was sponsored by the European Institute.
Mr. Murphy said if Europe would agree to "mutual acceptance of oenological practices," end or reduce export subsidies, phase out domestic supports for its growers and producers, and protect U.S. names abroad, "the U.S. industry has concluded that, 'yes' they'd be willing" to relinquish the use of European names."
The European Union has taken the position that high-tech U.S. wines may be a health hazard, but has also permitted them to be sold in Europe on a temporary, but renewable basis. The current waiver ends next year.
The United States is demanding a "mutual acceptance agreement" like the so-called "New World" agreement recently signed among the United States, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Canada and Argentina.
Under such an agreement, if winemaking practices are permitted in the United States, customers in Europe should be given the freedom to choose U.S. wine.
Given the temporary waivers, little U.S. wine has actually been kept out of Europe, and it is readily available in wine shops and restaurants. But temporary rules that could change make it risky for Americans to invest in the European market.
In 1998, winemakers from the United States, including E&J; Gallo, Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson, met European winemakers in Barcelona and agreed to give each side what the other wanted.
Under the accord, the French and other Europeans would get the exclusive use of their geographical names and the Europeans would permanently accept U.S. winemaking techniques.
But when each side presented their recommendations to their respective government representatives in Brussels and Washington, the EU bureaucrats in Brussels balked.
"I am told the Americans were more receptive," said one French negotiator on condition of anonymity. U.S. interests confirmed the account.
"Just because some oenological practices are not allowed in the European Union does not mean they should be used as a non-tariff barrier," said Yves Benard, who is president of the organization that represents champagne producers.
The Office of Champagne was opened last year in Washington to educate Americans on the finer points of labeling wine.
It plans a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to make the point that Chablis is not cheap white wine, Burgundy does not come from jugs or cardboard containers and champagne can only be made in Champagne.
"Ninety percent of the people we surveyed said it would be deceptive for a bottle labeled Napa not to be produced in Napa," said Dawnine Dyer, of the Napa Valley Vintners Association. "Our survey dealt only with Napa. But, why wouldn't it be the same for Champagne, or Bordeaux or Burgundy."
Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican and a winemaker as well, said it is probably too late for an even swap American vintners giving up European names in exchange for a lifting of European trade barriers.
"They may have had a case 60 or 80 years ago, but today the U.S. industry has a lot invested in those names Champagne, Port, Burgundy," he said.
Asked what would happen if a winemaker in Chablis, France, began using the name Sierra Foothills to label his own wine, Mr. Radanovich said: "We'd have to nip that in the bud."


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