During a visit earlier this month by French Minister for International Trade, Matthias Fekl, Napa Valley wine makers expressed to him their strong support for expanding and protecting the use of geographic indications (GIs) in the United States. The wine makers want to reinforce protections preventing others from unjustly using their name for their own benefit and to expand those protections to other wine makers in a goal to promote fairness and reduce consumer confusion.
The idea behind GIs is closely linked to the French concept of terroir, the intrinsic connection between an agricultural product and the geographic area in which it was produced and the traditional production methods used there, often for hundreds of years. Different types of soils, for example, can dramatically affect the final product. In that way, products made outside of the area or with different methods are likely to lead to a completely different final product. Therefore a bottle of sparkling wine, for example, should only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne-producing region of France.
France and the rest of Europe have strong regulations in place that are designed to protect these GIs from being usurped by people producing similar products outside of the region or without using the time-tested traditional methods of production. So, when products use the name to take advantage of the reputation of a particular agricultural production area, they’re not only unfairly stealing the name of the area, they’re actively misleading consumers, leading to confusion.
Napa Valley wines benefit from the same sort of reputation as other products, like Champagne or Burgundy wines, and in fact Napa Valley wines were the first products outside of the EU to be given European protection as a GI. They have developed an alliance with international wine growers to better protect wine place and origin.
In 2006, the US and the EU concluded an agreement to better protect GIs in the United States. However, 16 different “semi-generic” place names were “grandfathered in,” allowing their continued use so long as they were already being used before the agreement went into effect. Those “semi-generic” names included wines like Burgundy, Champagne, Sauternes, and Chablis.
The Napa Valley wine producers are strongly arguing that all exceptions should be completely removed from the 2006 wine agreement. Napa Valley Vintners official Rex Stultz brought the point home: “We’ve had our name ripped off all over the world. How can we go fight for our integrity around the world when the United States doesn’t offer that same reciprocation?”
In an article in Wines & Vines, Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners, also offered her support to other wine-producing regions that are facing similar issues because of the exceptions.
“Our views differ strongly from those of the U.S. government on misuse of geographic names like Champagne, Chablis, Sherry and Port. We are committed to protect not just the Napa name but those of all fine wine regions,” Reiff said.
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French Trade Official Visits Napa Valley (Wines & Vines)