Sun, Sep 18, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Champagne producers slam US-EU accord

INEFFECTUAL Growers in the Port and Champagne wine regions said an agreement signed on Wednesday would do little to keep firms honest about their grapes' origins

AFP , SAN FRANCISCO

Port and Champagne vintners who have championed the sanctity of wine region names derided a fresh trade accord between the US and the EU on Friday.

"As a true Champagne producer I cannot be happy with [the accord's] content," Bruno Paillard of Reims, France, told reporters in an email interview.

"It's sad that the USA, now a great wine country, continues to protect a few producers who are abusing the identity of others instead of using honest labelling for true consumer information."

Paillard lambasted the accord as failing to clarify the contentious issue of protecting appellations and for "grandfathering in" permission for those who've pirated region names to continue the practice.

"It is an absurdity on a moral point of view," Paillard wrote.

"The only honest way to solve this problem" would be to compel US wine makers using European Geographic Denominations customize product names in the way Spanish vintners established the successful "Cava" wines, Paillard said.

The wine accord signed in Washington, DC, on Wednesday amounted to little more than ineffectual "good intentions," according to George Sandeman of the Port wine house bearing his family name.

"We actually put most of this down to some very bad negotiating in the late '90s by the EU negotiators, who seriously let us down," Sandeman told reporters.

"Like all things, we have to move on," Sandeman concluded. "The origins movement is exciting."

Paillard and Sandeman were among true origin labelling advocates that signed a recent Napa Valley Declaration of Place that they took solace in as "heartening."

The symbolic pact was signed at Copia wine center in Napa in July by representatives of vintners in Sherry, Port and Champagne wine regions as well as counterparts in the US states of California, Oregon and Washington.

The wine makers forged an alliance devoted to teaching wine drinkers to keep vintners honest about the origin of grapes that go into vintages.

Grape-growers and wine-makers in regions that earn praise have long fought to prevent competitors from turning the names of areas such as Champagne, Port, Sherry and Napa, into generic labels devoid of geographic significance.

The Napa declaration has the potential to be more effective than the recent trade accord "because it talks to honest people, those who understand that one should not use other's identity," Paillard wrote.

"In the USA most people love truth," Paillard said.

"It's only a very small minority, a few people in fact, that are using other region's names than the ones their wines do actually come from. And for those guys, unfortunately, there is a need for a law, one day, to say: `stop.'"

Paillard found it "shocking" that vintners anywhere but France's Champagne region could put the name on their labels.

"May I remind them that Champagne was the wine of the kings, czars and other nobles long before the USA were even created," Paillard wrote. "The prestige of Champagne is indisputably due to the original, not to the copy."

The US Center for Wine Origins issued a release stating the effect of the wine trade accord would be minimal on consumers and "marks a real missed opportunity to make progress on ... protection of many famous winemaking locations."

Perhaps a planned next phase of trade negotiations will do more to protect wine region names, the center noted.

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