- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

The U.S. and Europe yesterday uncorked a deal that would allow American winemakers to continue using names such as Burgundy, Champagne and Chablis on their labels, a touchy topic for Europeans who claim exclusive rights to name products after the locales.

Since 1983, the sides had been trying to resolve disputes over place names, wine-making techniques and other practices that bothered producers on both sides of the Atlantic.

U.S. producers appeared pleased with the agreement, although their European counterparts were less enthusiastic.

“This agreement promises U.S. wineries a level of certainty that our wines will have long-term access to European markets … where consumers have embraced wines from California and other states,” said Robert P. Koch, president and chief executive of the Wine Institute, a trade group for California wineries.

As part of the new agreement, the Bush administration will ask Congress to limit the use of 17 wine names — such as Burgundy, Champagne, Chablis, Chianti, Madeira, Malaga, Port, Sherry and Tokay — which are considered “semi-generic” in the U.S., but are tied to specific geographic locations in Europe.

Eileen Fredrikson, a partner at Gomberg, Fredrikson and Associates, a Woodside, Calif., wine-consulting firm, estimated that more than half of California sparking wine production uses the term Champagne, while other semi-generic labels are declining in use.

“But to a narrow group of people … with a long-standing brand identity, it is quite important,” she said, citing Gallo Hearty Burgundy as an example.

U.S. winemakers would be allowed to continue using the names on existing brands but not new brands. A second round of talks is scheduled to further consider place names — at which Europe is likely to push for more stringent requirements.

Some European winemakers said the deal was inadequate.

“Instead of ensuring that consumers have the true facts about the contents of their wine, the agreement requires further talks on these important issues,” said the Center for Wine Origins, a Washington group that includes makers of Europe’s Champagne, Port and Sherry. “Consumers must seek out information on where their wine comes from to ensure they are not being misled by wine producers who choose to include names of wine-growing regions that are not their own.”

The U.S. and 25-nation European Union are the world’s biggest wine producers, as well as each other’s biggest markets and biggest competitors. Europe, led by Britain, imported $487 million in U.S. wine last year, while Americans demanded $2.3 billion worth of Italian, French, Spanish and other European wines.

The U.S. had threatened to make European exports more difficult unless the sides reached a deal. European Union officials said they had made important progress with the pact, which was finalized Wednesday and made public yesterday.

“This deal will remove the legal uncertainty which has hung over this trade for several years and benefit producers on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, the European Union’s agriculture commissioner.

The deal also resolves disagreements over wine-making practices deemed illegal in Europe, such as U.S. winemakers’ use of oak chips during wine fermentation.

Europe will accept such practices once the U.S. limits use of the 17 place names.

Europe also agreed to recognize U.S. place names, such as Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, on wine labels.

The sides agreed to start the second phase of talks in 90 days.

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