Champagne & Apple – Time to Get Litigious

“Champagne, the most esteemed of France’s sparkling wines, has not been known to take the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” outlook when it comes to its brand: The last contretemps on this front occurred earlier this very year, when the White House released an Inauguration menu accidentally describing as Champagne a wine bottle from some dingy low-class backwater called “California.” Now the Champenois have directed their considerable reserve of ire at the new Apple iPhone 5S, a product not from France but from China. Apple is set to debut the new phone soon, but photos, videos and rumor already leaked that it will come in a new color option, purported to be called “Champagne.” English-language French news source The Local cited comments of disapproval made by Charles Goamaere of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) to L’Union l’Ardennais. “Champagne doesn’t have one single color,” he said (yet another way Apple’s copycatting them!). “So we can’t say that a ‘Champagne’ color exists. Therefore, any company wanting to use the name ‘Champagne’ would be doing so [only] to attract all the benefits that surround [the label].” Goameare made clear that the CIVC would get litigious if necessary. “In almost all cases, we’ve been vindicated,” including against non-wine companies like Perrier and Yves St. Laurent. As The Local noted, “In the past, the CIVC has successfully barred the use of ‘Champagne’ in toothpastes, mineral water for pets, toilet paper, underwear and shoes,” all of which one might easily confuse or naturally associate with the famous luxury sparkling wine. You’ll just have to wait until the official iPhone release to find out how the cards fall, perhaps while sipping an ice-cold Miller High Life which, thanks to a loophole in U.S.-E.U. trade law, still remains the Champagne of Beers.”


Cyber Terroir

“The battle to protect geographic typicity in the world of wine has spread to technological terroir with the news that new Top Level Domains (TLD) .vin and .wine will be made available for purchase on the Internet. And the immediate concern to arise is that anyone could register a site like or and not be affiliated with said regions. Under current ICANN guidelines (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the organization that controls domain names), this could happen. So specifically, these regions and their representatives are seeking legal recourse against possible misuse of their Geographic Indicators such as Champagne, Bordeaux, Napa, etc. The issue becomes one of who bears the burden (read: cost) of validating every application on these new domains in the light of Geographic Indication protection. ICANN says it is essentially keeping to its longstanding policy of “regulate yourselves” while the trade groups are saying “you created this mess, you sort it out.” Due in no small part to the attention this issue has drawn, the threats of potential boycotts from people within the industry, and the legal costs associated with “evicting” cyber-squatters, ICANN is reviewing their practices concerning new domain registration before these domains become available for sale.”

Tasting Group 75 Selections for September

We are devoting this month to rediscovering much-maligned Australia. After more than a decade of building a house of cards on the haunches of Yellow Tail & the like, Australia has taken a step back & a good, hard look at itself.  In the process of producing much higher-quality & much more compelling wines, a few trends are apparent. 

We’ll take a look at 3 of them here….

2011 Vasse Felix Chardonnay                                                  

Western Australia 

100% Chardonnay. Trend #1: Cool-climate whites.  For so many years we were saturated with buttery, tropical, high-alcohol, over-oaked Chardonnay grown in warm climates where acidity didn’t stand a chance.  It’s time to step back into the light.  Cool-climate, lower-alcohol whites have been on the rise for several years now – grown on the rugged coasts & high up in the hills. Australia’s stepped away from heavy-handed use of oak barrels, staves & chips, letting clean crisp fruit sing through.  Vasse Felix (founded in 1967) is in the Margaret River region, on the extreme craggy South Western coast.  This Chardonnay offers bright, delicate fruit and a tight acid structure.

·     Top 100 International Winery, 2012′ Wine & Spirits USA

·     Australian Winemaker of the Year 2012 – Virginia Willcock’ Gourmet Traveller WINE

2011 Langmeil Three Gardens SMG                          

Barossa, South Australia      

Shiraz, Mataro & Grenache.  Trend #2: Don’t reinvent the wheel, build on your strengths.  Langmeil boasts the oldest Shiraz vines in Australia, dating back to 1843!  The Barossa is Australia’s most famous wine region, comprising the Barossa Valley and Eden Valley.  Historically, a Barossa vigneron referred to his vineyard as his garden. The three gardens referred to in this wine are in Tanunda, Lyndoch and Vine Valere.  The red SMG blend plays to Australian strength, is extremely successful & has its roots in France’s Southern Rhone Valley – where the “M” is for Mourvedre (aka Mataro). Though bright & juicy, expect pepper & sweet spice to dominate the palate – this is a full (14.6% abv) warm wine that joyfully welcomes cool weather. No oppressive new oak here – maturation is in seasoned oak for 12 months so fruit and spice are retained, as well as finesse.

2011 Running with Bulls Tempranillo                                      

South Australia      

100% Tempranillo.   Trend #3: Experimentation with Mediterranean varieties better-suited for warmer Aussie climates.  Much of Australia is hot and for years, international varieties e.g.,  Cabernet Sauvignon, and even Shiraz (Syrah) dominated the scene.  The styles were one-dimensionally full-bodied and high octane.  More recently producers have begun looking at grapes that can handle heat and still produce graceful wines.  Tempranillo grown in the warmer reaches of Spain, is a perfect example of what Yalumba, Australia’s oldest winery is trying out.  Jancis Robinson: “I was impressed by how varietally true and attractive this wine is. A sweet floral nose is followed by a devilishly alluring, lightly leathery Tempranillo palate. Well done, those Aussies! There is lots of lip-smacking fruit but some structure and real Tempranillo character here.”  This bottling is named for founder Hill Smith’s 1978 Pamplona run with the bulls at the San Fermin Festival.

A Direct Threat to the Terroir of the Cote d’Or

Extreme weather has characterized the 2013 growing season in France (in addition to 2011 & ’12) and “after 1,350 hectares were wiped out in one afternoon, Burgundy producers are looking for ways to limit future damage.” Cloud seeding has been suggested as a possible solution.

Cloud seeding has been around for decades and was used with some success during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to prevent rain and combat air quality issues. It is now on the table in Burgundy as an option to combat their own tropospheric issue, the increasingly frequent occurrence of destructive hail storms. Unfortunately the decision to seed or not is tough. In this case, man-made weather will require a sacrifice of financial resources and principle.

As the birthplace and exemplar of terroir, the Cote d’Or carries the banner forward by proudly producing wines that speak of the growing conditions specific to each vintage. But if there are no grapes to turn into wine then there is no voice to speak of the land and the weather. This puts Burgundy producers at a crossroads. We must wait to see if they continue to express the terroir that Mother Nature provides, risking the loss of some or all of their fruit, or shell out money to safeguard the fruit but dilute the honesty of their terroir.




Microscopic Wine

Dr. Gary Greenberg is living his retirement years with the mission “to show people how extraordinary ordinary things are.” When exploring his passion for all things diminutive he uses his 3-D microscope, a camera and a lighting technique called polarization to capture the beauty he finds. His most recent endeavor is focused on the “cruddy stuff” left-over when a glass of wine sits out to evaporate; not sediment but dry extract, which Greenberg calls “wine crystals.” He has found that different grape varietals posses different shapes of “wine crystal” and while they are beautiful to behold, he has yet to capture or advance anything of professional or academic import. So far he has examined Merlot (photo left), Zinfandel (photo right) and Gamay. He admits that he does not know what the different shaped crystals tell us, if anything, but is excited to continue his investigation and hopes to be able to confer with a wine chemist on a more in-depth analysis of his photographs.




Masters of the Wine Universe

The Institute of Masters of Wine has announced 8 new members, bringing the total count to 312. The 3-part Master exam requires candidates to pass theory and practical portions before presenting a dissertation to the Institute.

Two points of interest: this year saw the first successful completion of the exam by a Turkish candidate (Dilek Caner MW) and Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd, congratulated two additional members (Anne McHale MW and Demetri Walters MW) of its staff for their achievement. BBR now employs 8 MWs, while this is a much more important title to UK professionals 8 is an embarrassment of riches.

Further Reading:



How Militant Vignerons can Remind us of Terroir

I would feel remiss were I not to revisit the July 16th bombing of the Socialist Party headquarters in Carcassonne, France by the militant wine group CAV. Hoping to encourage the French government to correct certain perceived injustices, the group detonated a homemade bomb and tagged the headquarters building with graffiti, reminding the world in a misguided but valuable way of the Winegrower’s Revolt of 1907. Of significant historical importance, the revolt is also the ideological rallying point for the CAV and, deluded though it is, the inspiration for their violence. Seeking to harness the legitimacy of the original event, the CAV have authored their struggle around the unshakable twin pillars of geographical proximity to, and invocation of, the spirit of the winemaker’s Revolt. Success so far has been limited to destruction of property and bastardizing history and that is why, with increased enthusiasm, I urge the wider world of wine appreciators to become familiar with the factual events. Stripped of the superfluous noise created by the CAV we can celebrate the Revolt of 1907 for what IT accomplished and for its legacy as a defender of terroir.

Comité d’Action Viticole

The popular refrain is that the CAV was grown in the late 50’s from the hearty roots of the Winemaker’s Revolt of 1907. If that is to be believed, based on recent activity, the CAV have truly lost their way. Apparently as unconcerned with public relations as they are with logic, they find themselves in the laughably ironic position of violently invoking a successful, popularly supported and peaceful movement while being almost completely bereft of any popular support of their own. Jancis Robinson describes the CAV as, “a group of militant Languedoc vignerons whose chief gripe seems to be that they are no longer paid huge subsidies to produce cheap wine nobody wants to drink.” Other than sounding lazy, their desire to be sympathetically linked to their revolutionary heroes is in direct conflict with their use of black ski masks and sneaky sabotage, actions begging for them to be labeled “militant.” Far removed from any possibility of being considered folk heroes, the membership of the CAV seem misguided and bogged down in confusion about the concept of entitlement.

The Winemaker’s Revolt

              A century ago, wine was Languedoc and Languedoc was wine.                                             -Languedoc winemaker & historian Jean Clavel

Phylloxera and chaptalization have both exerted influence universally on the story of wine but in the southwest France at the turn of the 20th century they acted jointly with a river of colonial African wine to produce particularly consequential effects. The vital relationship between the people of the Midi and their vineyards meant that when man and nature turned against the Languedoc, conspiring with a trio of methods to assault their livelihood and induce a price collapse in the local market, the entire region shared genuinely in the misery.

The trouble, as for so many, started when phylloxera wiped out the vineyards. When the destruction occurred in the Languedoc in the late 1800s, the vineyards were laid bare, regional production stopped and a vacuum was created. Demand, however, did not stop and the vacuum was quickly filled by opportunistic outsiders peddling chaptalized wine and cheaper colonial imports. Try to imagine, after the devastation of phylloxera, the exhaustion of replanting and the anxiety of waiting for your vineyards to grow, all while watching the flood of imports to the local market, the joy of the vignerons of the Languedoc when finally, around the turn of the century, their vineyards had begun to produce again… That joy was short lived.

The centralized government of France, having come to terms with the difficult realities of nature and economics in early 1900s Languedoc, found the newly established stop-gap culture of colonial imports and “sugared wine” to be an adequate business solution and allowed the practices to continue unregulated. Much to the dismay of the citizens of southern France, fraudulent wine remained abundant at market and greatly devalued their first saleable harvest in years.

A decision to lower the sugar tax in 1903 further encouraged the use of chaptalization and subsequent abundant local harvests in 1904 and 1905 created a glut in the Languedoc market, initiating the aforementioned price collapse and extending the public misery. Facing problems with no solutions, there was only one option available to assuage the broadly shared hardships of the people of southwest France, mass mobilization of the disenfranchised, a social movement to redirect the government. In such a charged environment, the fire of revolt would burn ravenously if sparked.

"The Redeemer"

In February of 1907 Marcelin Albert, “the redeemer,” became the spark by sending a letter to president Georges Clemenceau, reading in part, “Midi is dying. On behalf of all workers, traders, growers, hopeless husbands, children without bread, mothers ready to disgrace, pity!” The social mobilization of the Languedoc began in earnest the following month with protests numbering in the hundreds and continued through June, eventually achieving crowds of 800,000.

President Clemenceau turned out to be short on pity. The cause of the movement, the suffering of his citizens, did not move him. He was moved only by the potentially disruptive economic effects of mass protest and moved, as a true statesman would, to neutralize the threat through treachery and force. After tricking Albert into discrediting himself, Clemenceau sent the military south to “restore order.” Organized, peaceful and non-violent from the beginning, the demonstrations of civil disobedience across the southwest did not require external policing until the arrival of the military.

In Narbonne on June 17th, 1907, the proximity of the indignant citizens with their oppressors resulted in the accidental shooting deaths of two protesters, one of which was a 14-year-old boy. Already conflicted about the morality of policing their own countrymen, the Narbonne disaster encouraged 500 conscientious French soldiers to mutiny and head south in non-violent support of the citizens they were sent to discipline.

Importantly, rather than escalate tensions, the mutiny led to the resolution of the episode. The two deaths and the desertion of troops proved to be an awakening for influential members of government, who were finally moved to act constructively. From June 29th-October 21st a series of decrees were made and anti-fraud laws were written.

A law protecting natural wines was adopted banning the manufacture and sale of forged or fabricated wines. Vineyard owners were officially required to report the size of their vineyards, make crop declarations and provide accurate stock reports. Legislature was passed “aimed at preventing the wetting of wines and abuse of sugaring through a surcharge on sugar and reporting requirements for traders who sell more than 25 pounds sugar.” The government agreed to exempt a tax on growers for their crops in 1904, 1905 and 1906 and it was decreed that: “No drink can be held or transported for sale, or sold as wine, unless it comes exclusively from the alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes or grape juice.”

These steps toward the full protection of regionally regulated wine were encouraged over the next many years in both large and small ways. The Champagne Riots of 1911, sparked by similarly protectionist desires of the regional growers, was the dramatic little brother to the Languedoc Revolt of 1907 and helped to keep the ball rolling toward the eventual creation of AC laws in 1935. 


Though not referenced directly, the most important idea to be championed by the revolt of 1907 is terroir and the importance of its protection. Whether overtly or covertly, terroir is inextricably linked to the issues of phylloxera, chaptalization and imported wine. Phylloxera Vastatrix, relates to the idea of terroir through its second name, vastatrix or devastator, whereby through the execution of its natural duty phylloxera temporarily invalidates the terroir of the afflicted locale. In turn of the century Languedoc, this devastation created the opportunity for abusive practices such as the extra-ordinary use of chaptalization and fraudulent labeling of imported wine. Had “laws of place” been legally defined, Languedoc winemakers would have suffered from phylloxera but would have been protected against unscrupulous competitors upon the return of their genuine product. This reality demonstrates the importance of terroir as related to quality.

In the Midi around 1900, not only was your barrel of Langudoc wine almost certainly not 100% Languedoc wine, it was guaranteed to be of lower quality.  Due to the land it came from, the methods of production and the nature of transportation, the wines from African colonies and those enriched with sugar could not consistently achieve the quality of even the very modest bulk wine that the vineyards of the Languedoc produced. Modernity has proven that, appropriately labeled and regulated, there is space in each local market for fair competition between foreign, manipulated and, of course, local wine. In 1907, those protections did not exists for the people of the Languedoc.

Terroir allows all wines great and small to be what they are meant to be. To drink wine and consider the importance of place, the identity inherent in honest wines, is to do the land and its denizens honor. This is what I suggest we think about when considering the CAV. Use their actions as a mental cue to more deeply appreciate how important the land is to wine and how important wine is to man.

Sources:                                                                                    évolte_des_vignerons_du_Languedoc_en_1907