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The Orange Kerfuffle

Or how protecting a wine district can ruffle feathers
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 30, 2014 12:03pm ET

Wine regions have shown vigilance in protecting their names. Years ago Champagne successfully campaigned to get people to quit applying their region's name to every sparkling wine, not just on labels but in descriptions. Chablis, Burgundy, Chianti and Tokaji did so too. Wine Australia wants the same courtesy for Orange.

An "advisory" posted recently on the industry promotional organization's website reminded those who refer, with blasé indifference, to a growing category of wine as "orange wine" that they are treading on shaky legal ground. Orange is a recognized Geographical Indication (Australia's version of appellation) and applying it to wine runs afoul of the Wine Australia Corporation Act. That's a federal law.

"There is a trend amongst some producers of skin-contact white wines to describe their products as ‘orange wine.' This description stems from the hue or tint displayed by many of these products," reads the message.

Orange is a region in the central highlands of New South Wales, at 2,000 to 3,000 feet of elevation. Known for its apples and cherries, it has yet to make much of an impact with U.S. wine consumers, but it's the source of some pretty good cool-climate wines. Among them are Philip Shaw's. Although it has some of the characteristics of Friuli and Savoie, known for bottlings often referred to as orange wines, as far as I know, we don't see any orange wines from Orange.

Other official appellations could also lead to confusion, including Robe, Hunter and Peel. The message drily adds that "orange peel" presents a uniquely interesting combination. (If I were a winemaker in Australia I could hardly resist making a multiregional blend called Orange Peel.)

Wine Australia warns that "producers of skin-contact white wines … risk serious consequences in describing your wines using the word ‘orange,' unless the word is clearly being used to denote one of its common English meanings" as a fruit, color or flavor. To avoid confusion, the Aussies say the context must be clear, and suggest saying something like "wines of orange hue" but not "orange-style wine."

This has been met by derision. "So, the Aussies don't know the difference between orange and Orange; capital 'O' guys. Should do it," went one post on Twitter. "Is this for real?" asked another. "Have Wine Australia got a really dry sense of humour? 'Wine of orange hue'???" And, "the citizens of the kingdom of Rosé are also, understandably, irate."

Are they correct? Or are those who pooh-pooh the move only revealing their own snobbery?

Eric Campos
Canada —  May 30, 2014 5:26pm ET
Too funny! Would like to see them sue the country of Morocco, which specializes in orange wines. Besides someone claiming lineage back to the Prince of Orange (giving France priority over the use of Orange, btw), I cannot imagine why anyone would want to associate their wine with a word commonly associated with a citrus fruit. Protecting a DOCG of Mulberry Linzer Torte, I could understand, but Orange? someone's bored....
Tim Mc Donald
Napa, CA USA —  June 2, 2014 7:13pm ET
Great piece Harvey, and lets hope the notion of orange wines never are produced from Orange. And Orange Peel = game on! Cheers!

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