US trade agencies and marketers says consumer education depends on more precise labels.
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According to a March study released by the Washington DC-based Wine Origins Alliance (WOA) – which strives to protect geographical places for wine regions all over the world – 94 percent of American wine drinkers support laws that would protect consumers from misleading wine labels.
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Results of the GBA poll were released in March of this year, according to Jennifer Hall, the Washington DC-based director of the WOA. She adds the sample size of the poll was 800 people.
Chief members of the WOA include regions such as Chianti, Rioja, Bordeaux, Sherry and Walla Walla in Washington. The group has been in existence since 2005.
Given the fact that some American wine growing regions' are not geographically protected in terms of labeling, Linda Reiff – president of the St. Helena-based Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) organization, which has close to 500 members – said in a press release that the situation makes it "hard for Napa and US regions to protect their names around the world when their very own government doesn't extend that same protection to others".
Savvy producers in the US have long been concerned about how American wines – and fortified wines and spirits – are marketed. The more progressive of them have long stopped using European-specific regional appellations such as "Port" and "Champagne" which continue to create confusion among consumers worldwide. However many deep-pocketed, corporate entities – we won't name names – have stuck to a marketing formula that is profitable and works.
Perhaps this research from the WOA will shake the legal and marketing situation up a bit. Rex Stults, government relations director at the NVV, says that when "a wine label is misleading, implying it is made from a specific place when it is not, it confuses the consumers and it hurts the producers who have built their reputation on the unique character of that particular place".
"Unfortunately other great regions of the world, like Champagne, Port, Sherry (Jerez) and Burgundy have not been extended the same protections [as] in the US. This practice is deceptive for wine consumers and unfair to producers".
He adds that the Napa Valley region supports more than 20 leading international wine regions in "our belief that place of origin is important to wine". He adds that these initiatives are working to protect consumers, producers and the wine business from "deceptive labeling practices".
Beverage attorney Robert Tobiassen – who worked as chief consul for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau which is part of the US Department of the Treasury (TTB) in Washington DC for many years – and is now a Virginia-based consultant has been at the forefront in supporting this new legislation.
"When Spain joined the European Union in 1986, it had to give up using the name Champagne and created the name 'Cava'. There is a strong cultural binding to these names. At the same time, these names are valuable assets in both the local and global markets for wine."
He adds that the new definitions of terroir and tradition are "relatively recent in the history of wine commerce". After the repeal of Prohibition in the US in 1933, "the Federal wine label regulations recognized the use of varietal designations".
It wasn't, he notes, until the late 1940s in the US that varietal and regional designates became of use and interest in the States for domestic wineries. When they did many wineries were on a roll – we won't name specific names but "Hearty Burgundy", was one of the biggest jug wine sellers in the US for decades – and all producers who have seen major commercial success on the market want to stop with their current labeling policies.
Tobiassen continues that, "Fast forward to today, even Old World wines are bearing labels that include the varietal names and the geographical indications. This is where commerce comes into play because they are trying to market to contemporary consumers who want this information. Not everyone recalls that a Beaujolais wine is produced from a Gamay [grape] varietal".
While good intentions abound in the wine industry, hopefully the current spate of more educated consumers will continue to make clear what they desire to see on labels.
Comentario de / Comment of Wines Inform Assessors:
España y sobretodo Cataluña donde está instalada la mayoría de producción de cava decidio el 1972 dejar de llamar "xampany" - en catalán- o "champaña" -en castellano- a los espumosos que producía. Esto fue debido a al conflicto con Francia por la utilización del nombre Champagne o similares
Esta decisión fue acertada pues va a favor del consumidor y además diferencia dos productos diversos (principalmente por las variedades usadas: Xarel·lo, Macabeu y Parellada). Posteriormente la venta a bajos precios basada en precios de uva muy bajos ha creado el caos actual en el sector del cava
Muchos productores ya producen vinos espumosos en toda España y a veces basados en variedades de uva específicas de su zona como La Hondarribi Zuri del País Vasco o el Albariño de Galicia
Las cosas se estan moviendo
Wines Inform Assessors
Spain and especially Catalonia, where the majority of cava production is installed, decided in 1972 to stop calling "xampany" - in Catalan- or "champagne" - in Spanish - the sparkling wines it produced. This was due to the conflict with France over the use of the name Champagne or similar
This decision was right because it goes in favor of the consumer and also differentiates two different products (mainly by the varieties used: Xarel·lo, Macabeu and Parellada). Subsequently, the sale at low prices based on very low grape prices has created the current chaos in the cava sector
Many producers already produce sparkling wines throughout Spain and sometimes based on grape varieties specific to their area, such as La Hondarribi Zuri in the Basque Country or Albariño in Galicia
Things are moving
Wines Inform Assessors