A part that was played out with blows of lengthy negotiations for years. In 2012, China took a first step in this direction, like Brazil, in 2013 – even if trading is far from over. “When countries recognize the geographical indication, this means that they will prohibit the production and marketing of local sparkling wines labeled champagne, but also the import of wines having this term misused. Thus, recently, China prohibited Californian sparkling wine labeled champagne,” says the producer Bruno Paillard, chairman of the commission and Communication ‘Champagne’ in the Interprofessional Champagne wine.
Standoff with the United States
Artisan defense of the appellation worldwide, Bruno Paillard, CEO of the group Lanson BCC (third largest producer of champagne with Lanson brands Besserat of Bellefon Philipponnat, De Venoge and Boizel) was defeated in international negotiations. “Today, the AOC champagne is recognized everywhere, with the exception of a few countries, such as India, where we are in negotiation, and Vietnam. In Latin America, there is a point to settle in Argentina. But the showdown happens with the US, which does not recognize European AOC.” A complex situation in a region where the largest Champagne producers have been located for some forty years in California and Oregon.
“In fact, they are copies, they do not mention the word champagne and produce the best American sparklings.” But this recognition could come from US producers, according to the CEO of Lanson BCC. “Today, there are several production areas, like Napa. More local wineries are located in regions recognized, they are more sensitive to our arguments. Napa Vintners Association supports us because she was a victim of misappropriation of notoriety, like us.” A battle that could end in the free trade agreement between Europe and the United States (TTIP) is currently under discussion.
Champagne versus “bubbly”
At Domaine Chandon, the harvest ended long ago. This year they began in July, which is rare. According to Matt Wood, director of Chandon, the drought in California for three years has nothing to do. It just happened that it was very hot and Tom Tiburzi, the cellar master, and Raymond Reyes, head of culture, felt that it was time to harvest.
Chandon has celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013. It was the first French area to settle in 1973 on the slopes of Napa, the great American wine region, about a hundred miles from San Francisco, under the leadership of CEO Moët-Hennessy, Robert Jean de Vogue. Today Chandon is the main producer of “champagne” of the United States, with 6 million bottles produced each year.
“Sparkling wine” officially
Officially it is not champagne appellation reserved for products of the eponymous French region, but “sparkling wine” produced according to the “traditional” method (with a second fermentation in the bottle of wine) from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Napa Valley. Other French in the region are Mumm (under the name Mumm Napa) since 1979 and Taittinger (Domaine Carneros). Roederer has shown originality in 1981 by moving a little closer to the Pacific, the Anderson Valley.
Chandon occupies more than 400 acres in Yountville, north of the town of Napa, near the museum which is held every year a “ball of bootleggers” that celebrates the end of Prohibition on December 5, 1933. A doll town with disproportionate car parks. Bakery-cafes have more French the further you go, but the volume of tourists in the Wine Country is not without impact on quality. Amateurs wander from one cellar to another: they are more than 350 on the narrow strip of land that stretches 55 kilometers along the Napa River. A small train, the Wine Train Express, gives a Disneyland atmosphere wine.
Reference to the “founding fathers”
Chandon receives 250,000 visitors a year. It is impossible to visit the wineries without consuming over pay tastings (minimum 20 dollars, 40 dollars with the visit). The “sparkling” market is booming in the United States: 25% increase in three years, said Matt Wood, a British law graduate, head of the estate since late 2011.
During the visits, Chandon refers to its “founding fathers” French (the name dates back to 1743 Moet), but the field has largely emancipated. No French wine appears in the chart. Tom Tiburzi, the cellar master has an environmental science degree from the University Berkeley. By the admission of Matt Wood, the link with the French house is not a selling point for the American consumer. “We honor our French heritage, but we know very well who our client is.”
Of the approximately 3 billion sparkling wine bottles sold each year worldwide, Champagne can only produce about 350 million, says Sam Heitner, representing the Champagne wine Council in Washington. The interest of French producers is therefore to develop other land, close to consumption areas.
Difficult to educate the palates
In terms of taste, the transatlantic gap has continued to grow. Unlike the French, who continue to see in the champagne a sign of distinction or exception, Americans are not big on a glass of bubbly. “They do not need either flute or excuse” says Matt Wood – in the tasting, a recurring question is: why these glasses to drink champagne are so narrow? The Italian prosecco has made a remarkable breakthrough and broke the French exception. “He gave the consumer a sparkling wine from elsewhere and cheaper,” says Mr Wood. Everyone benefits from the extension of the sparkling market. But Sam Heitner is concerned, it is difficult to educate the consumer’s palate “if he makes his first discovery with a Champagne that is not Champagne.”
Americans love experiences. The pink champagne is fashionable (16% of exports to the United States in 2013, against 3.6% ten years ago). “They see it as a wine that can be consumed during the longer meal,” said Matt Wood. Overseas, we also like sweeter wines. Chandon has just put on the market, as an experiment in Florida and Texas, a semi-dry called “Delight”, with fruity blends. The label is metallic blue, away from the golden traditions.
Confusion in stores
In stores there is a lot of confusion. While it is clear that the Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart are imported from France, if only because they are twice as expensive and stored in closed windows, many other labels sow doubt. Chandon stands by labels marked “Méthode traditionnelle” (“Traditional method” in French). Korbel, such as those that target a mid-market, said he was “Méthode champenoise” (“Champagne Method”) and insists: “California Champagne”.
There are even in supermarkets Costco under the Kirkland label a “real” champagne imported from France, but twice cheaper than the major competing brands (there is a wine sold off by the Champagne producer Janisson).
Since 2006, it is forbidden to call “champagne” wines not produced in France, but the earlier marks were able to keep their label. An exception that the French are hoping to correct: “Nearly 40% of sparkling wines are deceptively labelled “California Champagne” or “American Champagne”,” laments Sam Heitner, dubbed the “champagne sheriff ” by the Wall Street Journal.
The French believe that, in the war of names, the story goes in their direction. Globalization has resulted in an increased awareness of the region and a thirst for authenticity, said Mr Heitner. “In recent years, Americans are becoming more aware of the origin of what they eat and drink.” And they drink more. A decade ago, 50% of adults reported not to consume alcoholic beverages. They are no more than 35%. The legacy of Prohibition has fizzled.