French Trade Official Visits Napa Valley

Local vintners "differ strongly" with U.S. government on terms like "Champagne" on domestic wine

by Paul Franson
french trade minister designations napa valley vintners wine
French minister Matthias Fekl meets with members of the Napa Valley Vintners and NVV staff during a trip to the United States to discuss international trade.
Napa, Calif.—Napa Valley may produce only a small percentage of U.S. wine, but it has a huge reputation. That was demonstrated last week, when Matthias Fekl, the French minister of state for foreign trade, tourism and promotion of French nationals abroad, visited Napa Valley during a trip to to discuss globalization and trade.

Fekl met at Silverado Vineyards with members of The Napa Valley Vintners including president/CEO Linda Reiff and government relations director Rex Stults, plus board members including Susan Boswell of Chateau Boswell Winery, Pat Stotesbery of Ladera Vineyards and Russ Weis, general manager of Silverado Vineyards.

Napa Valley initiated the 2005 appeal to protect designations of origin for wine in international trade, and Fekl said he visited the area “to take part in a discussion with members of the Napa Name Protection committee,” which now includes 19 designations of origin including Bordeaux, Bourgogne and Champagne.

“France lends considerable support to this system to protect agri-food production at the international level. The Napa Valley producers whom I had the pleasure of meeting expressed their support to me for this shared demand in support of promoting expertise and the quality of products. Their appeal and their struggle is a legitimate demand, consistent with the increasing demands of consumers and the right of producers to make a decent living. It was a key moment for me during this visit,” he said.

During the meeting, Reiff outlined how Napa Valley has earned the reputation for producing high-quality wines, which has inspired copycats to exploit the Napa Valley name on bottles of wine that are not from the region. Aside from being unfair to Napa Valley wineries and growers, it’s obviously misleading to consumers.

As a result, the Napa Valley Vintners spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year just to protect the name from misuse, which has included initiating geographic indication status from the European Union. (In 2006, Napa Valley became the first non-European region to be recognized.)

Reiff emphasized that the NVV wants the U.S. to be fair to other regions, too. “Our views differ strongly from those of the U.S. government on misuse of geographic names like Champagne, Chablis, Sherry and Port. We are committed to protect not just the Napa name but those of all fine wine regions.”

While noting that no Napa Valley sparkling wine producers call their wines “California champagne” anymore, Reiff admitted that 20 Napa producers still call their sweet dessert wines “port.” She says the NVV is trying to find an alternative that will prompt producers to stop that practice.

The French are also trying to outlaw use of many French terms traditionally used in the wine business (see “‘Clos’ to Go—What About ‘Chateau?’”),  but English speakers have borrowed French words at least since 1066.

Reiff pointed out that one reason French terms are so widespread is the strong influence of French winemaking on the California wine industry, particularly after Prohibition. (See a related story here.) 

After the formal talks, the French representatives headed to other meetings in the Bay Area before venturing to Washington, D.C., to talk trade agreements. Fekl met with U.S. trade representative Michael Froman to discuss trade negotiations, including on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. He also met with members of Congress and and other officials to discuss social and environmental issues relating to global trade.

In summarizing his short visit to Napa, Fekl said, “We took stock of the common issues across the wine industry in France and here. Wine is truly a product of civilization; that’s why I think that it is always essential to meet with the remarkable women and men who produce it with so much passion. That’s what I did, with great interest.”

Posted on 06.14.2016 - 11:50:21 PST
The great Dr. Bailey Carrodus of Yarra Yerring used Potsorts to denote his port style wine. I like it. I also think Korbel could generate a lot of free positive goodwill and PR if they announce a date and new label dropping use of Champagne. I think the words sparkling wine are just fine and can work worldwide, for everyone. I don't have a suggestion for Sherry. I am sure someone can come with ideas.
Donn Rutkoff