EU Agrees to Protect Napa Wines' Good Name
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
And I'm Andrea Seabrook.
Napa Valley wines from Spain? Napa wines from England? Not anymore. For a time, some winemakers in those countries were using the valuable Napa Valley name on their bottles. But last month, the European Union put a stop to it by granting Napa what's known as geographic indication status. That's allowed lawsuits against anyone pirating the Napa name. But it's also stirred up an old battle back home.
Shirley Skeel reports.
SHIRLEY SKEEL: It took years for Napa Valley winemakers to stop the misuse of their name in Europe. So when Janet Trefethen, co-owner of Trefethen Vineyards heard they had succeeded, she was thrilled.
Ms. JANET TREFETHEN (Co-Owner, Trefethen Vineyards): I think it's absolutely terrific. We want people to recognize that what is Napa Valley is truly Napa Valley, and we don't want marauders.
SKEEL: That's a strong word, considering what's going on in California itself. About 12 percent of American wines still use European regional names like Burgundy and Chianti on their labels, and mostly on cheap bulk wines made by the country's three biggest wine makers, E.&J. Gallo, Constellation Wines, and the Wine Group. That's been upsetting the Europeans for some time now. On a recent visit to the San Francisco waterfront, Jean-Marc Trarieux, agricultural attache for the European Union, took a shot at this practice.
Mr. JEAN-MARC TRARIEUX (Agricultural Attache, European Union): Clearly, consumers should not be deceived. When a label refers to a place name, then the product has to come from that place. It has to be authentic. You have to realize that these place names represent the local tradition, the local culture, the local know-how.
SKEEL: Last year, the U.S. did compromise by banning any new brands from using 16 European regional names. But the EU still wants a full ban. Canada and Australia have agreed, but not the U.S. Napa Valley winemakers have now joined the effort to push for a full ban, putting them on the same side as their new friends in Europe.
Linda Reiff is executive director of Napa Valley Vintners.
Ms. LINDA REIFF (Executive Director, Napa Valley Vintners): We are aware that our position is different than the governments and than some other American producers, and that is we believe in respecting all wine-growing place names.
SKEEL: But such a move could come at a heavy cost to the big three winemakers. The disputed brands make up an estimated 6 percent of U.S. domestic wine sales, about a billion dollars.
Gladys Horiuchi is communications manager at the Wine Institute, a trade organization.
Ms. GLADYS HORIUCHI (Communications Manager, Wine Institute): They've made considerable investment in those names, in advertising. And so it's their brand name. It's clearly labeled California, so there's no confusion as to the wine's origins.
SKEEL: Jon Frederickson, editor of the wine industry's Gomberg-Frederikson Report, feels these protests are overdone.
Mr. JON FREDERIKSON (Editor, Gomberg-Frederikson Report): It will be of cost to them, and that's I'm sure why they're fighting it. But the American consumer has been moving upscale to varietal wines. And some of the bigger wineries are already deemphasizing it - these geographical names, and so gradually they would get over it.
SKEEL: However, even Frederikson agrees that some makers of wine like port and champagne could be in a tight spot.
(Soundbite of champagne bottle opening)
SKEEL: At the tasting room of F. Korbel & Bros. in Sonoma County, this debate is red hot. Half of their output is called California Champagne. It brings in $165 million a year. Owner Gary Heck says if he had to use sparkling wine instead of California champagne on his labels, it might not be a problem in New York or Los Angeles, but...
Mr. GARY HECK (Owner, F. Korbel & Bros. Incorporated): You go into other parts of the United States, you ask somebody what sparkling wine is and they're going to tell you it's wine with club soda added to it. It would be very detrimental to our brand to put sparkling wine on there.
SKEEL: The hundreds of wineries making port could be even more stomped because what do you call a port wine if not port? One clever California vintner, Quady Winery, has launched a port named Starboard, but it just doesn't have the same ring.
For NPR News, I'm Shirley Skeel.