Wine producers from different countries don't always see eye-to-eye, as they are often divided by the fractious realities of international trade disputes and a competitive market. But one point of common ground, at least among high-end estates, is the ground--the idea that location matters and therefore place names should be protected.
Vintners from Europe, California, Oregon and Washington gathered in Napa Valley last week to kick off a new group, the Alliance of Wine Regions, which is intended to educate Americans about wine appellations. "The primary objective is to have a better dialogue with the consumer about the importance of place," said Dawnine Dyer, co-owner of Dyer Vineyards on Diamond Mountain in Napa Valley.
Members of various regional wine organizations signed a declaration of principles that stated: "Wine, more than any other beverage, is valued based on its association to its place of origin." The statement continued, "The geographic place names of wine regions are the sole birthright of the grapes that are grown there, and when these names appear on wines that do not contain fruit from that region, they lose their integrity and their relevance, becoming merely words."
The timing of this effort is not random. The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), a marketing organization representing 263 wineries, has been involved for more than five years in a court case over the use of the Napa name in wine brands made without Napa grapes. In a separate dispute, the NVV has battled a producer in Beijing that wants to use the Napa name on wines made with Chinese grapes.
European producers from regions such as Champagne, Port and Jerez--all signatories to the Alliance of Wine Regions--have faced similar difficulties for years. For example, the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), has long fought the use of the Champagne name on labels of sparkling wines made in the United States.
"From our perspective, it's exciting to have allies," Dyer said. "To say it's not just a Napa issue, a Bordeaux issue or a Champagne issue. And hopefully, we'll have other regions that will soon want to be signatories."
However, the alliance highlights the competing priorities of producers of high-end wines and those of less-expensive ones. Korbel and Totts, for example, still use "California Champagne" on their labels.
The alliance does not currently have a budget, nor will it attempt to address the long-simmering trade dispute between the United States and the European Union over wine exports. Its goal is to heighten consumer awareness of the geographic information conveyed on wine labels.
Dyer said that the initial efforts will focus on "banging the drum" at trade and consumer events. A related educational campaign scheduled for a mid-August launch has been financed by the European Union. Based in Washington, D.C., and called the Center for Wine Origins, it will sponsor tastings and a soon-to-be completed Web site, www.wineorigins.com.
A preliminary brochure produced by the center, which addresses topics such as "How to Make Informed Wine Decisions" and "Take a look at the Label," explains the reasons behind the venture: "While many other countries around the world protect against the misuse of geographic locations in the labeling of wine, the United States largely does not. As a result, American consumers are at a far greater risk of being misled or deceived."
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