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Bottle Shock and New European Restrictions

Bottle ShockLast Saturday night was movie night at my apartment. We watched the 2008 film Bottle Shock,” which retells the story of the 1976 Judgment of Paris, essentially California’s entrance into the global wine markets. What I thought might become required viewing for anyone in the world of wine turned out to be a copy/paste love-triangle romance tied in with a classic underdog story which references the world of 1976 Napa instead of existing within it. Apart from Alan Rickman playing Steven Spurrier, the acting is lame. At least it’s pretty they get their money’s worth out of the helicopter they rented with all the swooping through the air above the vineyard shots. From a wine-guy perspective, you’ll get more from the 1976 Time Magazine article than from this film.

 
But then, I’m not a film critic; I’m a wine bloggist.
 

One of the main themes of Bottle Shock is the sense of old-world disdain for these American bumpkins and their lack of tradition in making wine. It’s probably got a lot to do with that unfortunate classist perception wine carries with it and probably a bit to do with trade protectionism and competition as well. It made me think of this blog entry I saw about a month ago. This issue has gone largely unreported in wine periodicals, but was brought up in this recent article on Decanter.com.
 
In short, it seems that the European Union is heightening regulation on the importation of US wines labeled with such terms as Chateau and Clos and vintage and Sur Lie. It was years ago that they restricted US wines using location-specific labeling such as Chablis and Champagne, which makes sense, but now they’re taking the restrictions a bit farther. I mean, vintage and Sur Lie actually refer to traits in wine and wine making. And a “Chateau” is a castle. They’re going to refuse to import US wine because of the word “castle”?
 
Ste Michelle RoseAlso in recent wine news, the European Union is preparing to relax their restrictions on the production of rosé wine, allowing the mixture of white and reds. The traditional method, of course, involves using red grapes and limiting the juice’s contact with the skins, resulting in lighter colored and lighter flavored wines. The story as reported hasn’t been about the expansion of new possibilities so much as traditional French producers’ indignation at the idea. Maybe it exposes my own naivete, but it makes me cringe whenever those holding on to tradition have to use the law to do it. If tradition is so valuable, then surely the wine market will reflect the superiority of their rosé.  …Right?
 
I don’t know if these issues are a huge concern to us in the US or just a cause for petty Internet bickering. I suspect that US imports aren’t a significant portion of the European wine market anyway. I mean, if I lived in Italy or France, I’d be sure to drink lots of Italian or French wine. But if that’s the case, why impose this regulation at all? In this uneasy period of declining auction prices and undersold futures, it seems like we should all be embracing global wine trade and spreading international good will, not hunkering down toward exclusivity and protectionism.
 
But then, I’m not an expert on international trade regulations; I’m a wine bloggist.



6 thoughts on “Bottle Shock and New European Restrictions

  1. Thanks for going through the pain of watching a sub par wine movie for us Greg!It is my opinion that movies about wine never stand up to expectations!Every time I meet someone new and they find out what I do for a living they always ask “Oh have you seen sideways”.

  2. Yes, but the real question is, have you watched Sideways with the commentary turned on? Because it’s totally worth it.”Like two Glad bags full of Ricotta cheese…” – Thomas Hayden Church, on seeing his own naked rear end.As for terms like “Chateau” and “Clos” on American wines, I think it’s a question of whether the term can confuse consumers over the wine’s origin. Not to mention whether or not it’s intentional… It seems to me that labels like Clos du Bois and Chateau St. Michelle are trading on the “french-sounding” names to lend more class to their wines, much like Carlo Rossi’s “Burgundy” or “Chalis”, rather than calling them “Miscellaneous Bargain Grapes Red” and “…White”.

  3. Geez, those French and their pesky wine laws.In 2005 the Napa Valley Vintners Association took Bronco Wine Co. to court over the Napa Ridge brand. Why? The wine didn’t come from Napa County. They were trying to protect the Napa name and the consumers right to know what is in the bottle.The more information a wine label carries about the quality and style of a wine, the better for the consumer, and I applaud laws that prevent specific wine terms from becoming generic.We can define what the term “Sur Lie” means on a bottle of French wine. Can anyone define what “reserve” means on a bottle of California wine?

  4. I think Chateau, Clos, Sur Lie, Estate, Vintage and many others are terms with legal definitions in France, aren’t they?

  5. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for restricting the use of legally definable terms, such as “Chablis” and avoiding the rampant use of vague terms (“Old Vine” comes to mind as well). But we Americans can produce a wine with the Sur Lie method as well as the French – I don’t see a good reason why they should refuse wine based on the nomenclature of the method. Are they insisting that we use the phrase “on the lees” instead?

  6. Wine Newbie, that’s a really big discussion. I’ll try to sum it up:For accuracy, I’m referencing Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, published in 2006.On Chateau: Chateau is French for Castle – that said, The Oxford Companion to Wine offers the example of Ch Leoville-Barton, a famous wine-making estate in Bordeaux that has no physical building at all.On Clos and Sur Lie: The are traditional French terms. Clos references the enclosed nature of the vineyard, Sur Lie is the method of leaving the yeast and other residue in the wine until bottling. The Oxford Companion doesn’t mention the legality of these terms, so I’m not completely sure.On Estate: “Estate” is an American term; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on a French label. On its own, Estate isn’t a legal term, but “Estate Bottled” wine is legally defined, according to Oxford Companion, as “from the winery’s own vineyards or those on which the winery has a long lease; both vineyards and winery must be in the geographical area specified on the label.”On Vintage: Vintage is a huge concept – too big a discussion for the comments section of a blog, I’m afraid. I’ll just say that I suspect that the EU’s move to protect the phrase is designed around Vintage Port and Champage, where vintage wines aren’t produced every single year, thus heightening the importance of bottles actually labelled “vintage.” …material for a future blog entry, perhaps?

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