- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

For the wine industry, location is the toast of the town.

The European Union and two wine trade groups have created a new group to help educate American consumers about where their bubbly and other wines come from.

The Center for Wine Origins, which opened in the District last month, has started a three-year campaign targeting consumers, retailers and lawmakers stressing the importance of terrain and climate have in giving wine grapes a specific taste.

“We want to educate American consumers on the broader issue of the importance of location,” said Miranda Duncan, a spokeswoman for the center.

The group will be visiting food and wine festivals, producing a print advertising campaign and running a Web site, wineorigins.com.

The center is currently funded by the EU, Champagne, France, group the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne and Port, Portugal, wine group the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto.

“These three … just decided to come together and we hope that other regions follow,” Ms. Duncan said. She declined to say how much is being spent on the center and the campaign.

Next year, Fedejerez, a group representing the producers of sherry in Spain, plans to join. Membership is open to any wine-making areas, including U.S. regions such as Napa Valley, Calif.

For now, the center’s goal is to improve on its recent poll that found 53 percent of Americans say region is very important when choosing a wine and another 30 percent said it was somewhat important.

Americans annually drink $2.3 billion worth of European wines.

“We see our mission as an educational one, and we see education happening on a myriad of levels … including educating policy-makers,” said Executive Director Shannon Hunt of the Center for Wine Origins.

In a trade deal reached last month, American wine producers can legally use “semi-generic” names, such as champagne or port, which were named centuries ago based on their European location but have become almost generic terms to U.S. consumers. It’s a hot topic for European producers who take pride in producing wine in Portugal or the Champagne region in France.

“There’s a loophole in U.S. law that allows a series of words — locations — to be misused by U.S. producers,” said Sam Heitner, director of the Office of Champagne USA, the American group representing champagne producers in Champagne, France.

More than half of the sparkling wines sold in the United States are called champagne, even if not from the region in France, according to industry analysts.

Champagne producers say they signed on to the center to save their name, not to make money.

“They’re doing this for pride of location and pride of place,” Mr. Heitner said. “And they very fiercely believe it’s a truth in labeling issue about where the product comes from.”

In July, representatives from six wine regions — Port, Sherry, Napa Valley, Oregon, Walla Walla, Wash. and the state of Washington — signed a declaration supporting efforts to maintain the integrity of location-specific names, but did not include specific regulations.

The Wine Institute, a trade group of California wineries, says there is no mislabeling taking place in its member wineries.

“All labels are submitted to [the federal] government before they can be put on bottles,” said communications manager Gladys Horiuchi.

Most American producers, if they use a semi-generic term like champagne, include the place of production, said Eileen Fredrikson, a partner at the Woodside, Calif., wine consulting firm Gomberg, Fredrikson and Associates.

“It’s preposterous to confuse most of the wine labeled champagne with a French champagne. It usually clearly says California champagne or New York champagne or wherever on the label,” she said.

Napa Valley Vintners, which produce 8.5 million cases of wine in Northern California per year, is not involved in the center, but has a similar interest in protecting wine names.

It has filed petitions against companies, including some in China, that have used the Napa Valley name on wines that don’t have Napa Valley grapes. And it’s pushing for a California law to prohibit other wineries from using the Napa Valley name.

“We’ve invested a lot into the region … to that end we have a keen interest in protecting the name,” said Tori Wilder, a Napa Valley Vintners spokeswoman.

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