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Dec 26, 2007 08:34 PM

Dallas newspaper doesn't know what Champagne is

Would you call "Cook's California Brut" Champagne? The Dallas Morning News food correspondents do.

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  1. If you drive by the Korbel facility, in the Russian River area of Sonoma, the huge sign on the outer wall reads "Korbel Champagne".

    I've never really understood the specific s of the legal basis for the French Champagne region's claim to sole use of the term since it doesn't seem as if they enforce it that much. If it's a trademark, those can be lost as a result of lack of aggressive policing. I do think that Korbel calls themselves "California Champagne", but I wouldn't think that would satisfy the French. It may, however, be enough to satisfy US courts. I did find an old reference to a Europenan case where a court made a defendant change labels that said "Spanish Champagne", so there's got to be some material available on the subject.

    Anyone know more?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Midlife

      It has nothing to do with trademark.

      An international treaty was actually signed protecting the name "Champagne," and virtually every nation signed it except the US and the USSR. Thus, it is legal for producers like Korbel and Cook's to produce a sparkling wine and call it "Champagne," just as there were bottles of "Sovietskoye Champagnskoye" -- I know; I consumed way too much of that $#!+. But the French DO zealously enforce that agreement where it can. Years ago, they took (I believe it was) Freixenet to court for making "Spanish Champagne," and thus CAVA was born.

      To question this is to question the entire way French -- and most European products -- are named.

      Europe has long named their produce after the geographic location in which it is produced. It is the whole basis for the French system of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS); of the Italian denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and denominazione di origine controllata e Garantita (DOCG); of the Spanish Denoninación de Origen (DO) and Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa); of the Portuguese Denominação de Origem (DO) and Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC); and so on . . .

      This extends far beyond wine. Cheese, oysters, distilled spirits, and more are all affected by this. For example, while it's true that the English neglected to protect "Cheddar," try making "Stilton" anywhere else.

      * * * * *


      When Europeans came to America to seek their fame and fortune in the California Gold Rush, and failed to find it, they often returned to making what they made "back home." So winemakers here used to make Bordeaux, Claret, Rhine wine, Chablis, Chianti, Port, Sherry, Champagne, etc., etc., etc. But remember this was in the mid-1800s, long before protected place-names of origin were codified into law. (The winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape started this practice by adopting local regulations in 1923; the rest of France followed, beginning in the 1930s.) So if the Italian winemaker didn't find gold, he returned to making Chianti; if the Frenchman didn't find gold, he returned to making what the English called Claret; and so on.

      This means there are historical reasons for these names -- what the US Government calls "semi-generic" wines -- to exist. There is little reason for their existence today, however, and in my opinion, these names should be banned.


      1. re: zin1953

        If someone would just develop a varietal grape called "champagne," the whole world would have a loophole to the treaty. The biggest problem may be that the grapes would have to make good champagne! '-)

        1. re: Caroline1

          Actually you can go into some markets and find "Champagne grapes" for sale, but these grapes have nothing to do with (and are not used in making) Champagne.

    2. So would I, because that's what Cook's calls itself.

      Is it a Champagne? No. But as a journalist, I would write "Cook's California Brut Champagne," because THAT is its name. See

      13 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        As a journalist you should put the word 'Champagne' in quotes to draw attention to its misleading use in the modern context. Constellation Brands is not basing its decision to use the word on any romantic attachment to the old country but to a cynical attempt to connote qualities that do not exist in the product. It tells you what kind of company Constellation Brands is that they do this.

        1. re: Worzel Gummidge

          No. I cannot tell you how wrong you are. As a journalist, you report what is on the label. You don't say "so-called President Bush," he IS the President. What WOULD be wrong would be if the writer called Cook's a "Champagne." He didn't. He wrote "Cook's California Brut," and didn't even use the word "Champagne" (except in the title, and titles are often written by editors, not the reporter).

          Correct use of the term "Champagne" would -- ideally -- be restricted to that region approximately 90 miles east of Paris, and to the sparkling wines produced therein. However, in the world in which we find ourselves, it is LEGAL for US wineries to use the term "champagne" -- Korbel makes "California Champagne"; Cook's makes "California Champagne"; Gallo (André) makes "California Champagne"; and a number of producers make "New York State Champagne." And so on. Cook's was using the term "champagne" long before its acquisition by Constellation.

          You write: "Constellation Brands is not basing its decision to use the word on any romantic attachment to the old country" and I agree completely! But then you continue, saying "but to a cynical attempt to connote qualities that do not exist in the product." This isn't true. Cooks has been labelled "champagne" since its founding the 1880s. Corporations like Constellation are not motivated by cynicism -- they often flow with the path of least resistance.

          It's easier (I imagine), from their point-of-view, to keep the world "champagne" on the label rather than worry about losing customer share if they change the label. I say "I imagine," because I have never spoken to anyone at Cook's or at Constellation about this. But I *have* spoken to people at Gallo, Korbel and Schramsberg about changing the name of the wine -- moving away from the use of the word "champagne." Owners of all three wineries said they feared loss of market share and confusing the public with any sort of name change. I can only presume it's the same with Constellation.

          (Note: it wasn't until the next generation took over at Schramsberg that "champagne" was removed from the label.)

          1. re: zin1953

            Removing the word Champagne wouldn't confuse, it would clarify. If the wineries don't have the ethics to follow Schramsberg's example they should be required to by truth in advertising law. Absent such a legal change, you speak from the position of the PR representative of the offending wineries. Journalists commited to reporting the truth routinely report misleading labelling in food (and politics). In the case of this newspaper from a major American city we have the food section, of all places, expounding ignorance. They deserve to be called on it and cannot abdicate responsibility with some prattle about "it was the part-time editor that day...". Ponder where that logic takes you.

            1. re: Worzel Gummidge

              My $.02:

              I agree that the term is used incorrectly but I'm not sure that ignorance belongs in the corner wearing the same dunce cap as marketing defensiveness and 'greed'. I think a case could be made that, however misguidedly, "champagne" has become something like the word kleenex in this country. Those who should know better deserve to be corrected and criticized but using the term in an article is not the same as using it on a bottle or in advertising. I've read that the use of the word, joined with California, was grandfathered for Constellation and others by a conference with the EU participating. The ethics of that may be open to discussion, but it did happen.

              1. re: Midlife

                My impression is that the word was used generically, not strictly. In the same way that Kleenex refers to all brands of tissue, as midlife points out.

                The word Champagne is on the bottle legally (and unfortunately), so there is no error by the Dallas Morning News, either in writing or in editing.

                There is also no error by Constellation in continuing to use the name of the wine made by a company they bought. To deem Constellation a bad company for that alone is to condemn too quickly.

                The New York Times earlier this year cited a study that said that 51% of sparkling wines in the US "had misleading labels."

                Perhaps the object of WG's wrath should be the US tradition of calling all bubbly "Champagne" and with US law that says Champagne may be used as a semi-generic term when the place name where the wine was produced is also on the label.

                Place names are much debated now, and Napa received place name protection
                by the Supreme Court, then by the EU in May. (Meaning if the word Napa is on the label, the grapes must be from Napa.) This will pave the way for the US to give protection to generic French place names like Champagne, Chablis and Burgundy. Ultimately, Cook's will change the label. But when? I don't know.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  In related news, the Modesto Bee reported today on a shipment of Gallo's Andre "champagne" that was seized and destroyed in the port of Antwerp when intransit to a destination outside the EU. Take a look at the video too,

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Not surprising. Gallo can call André a "Champagne" within the US, as it "qualifies" as such under US law. But it certainly does NOT qualify under the EU law or the French regulations that govern appellation d'origine contrôllée.

                    This is precisely why Andrew Quady can produce "Port" here, but calls it "Starboard" over there! ;^)


                2. re: Midlife

                  Champagne may have become a generic term in US, "just like Kleenex," However, only Kleenex gets to put that name on its boxes. The rest of the players are Scotties, Puffs, etc.

                3. re: Worzel Gummidge

                  Let's be sure to separate my own PERSONAL position from that of the writer of the article.

                  Personally speaking, I have campaigned since the 1970s for the abolition of what is defined by the US government in the CFR 27, Chapter 1, Part 4, Subpart C, Section 4.24, Paragraphs (b)(1) and (b)(2) as "semi-generic" wine designations on US-made wines. These terms include "Angelica, Burgundy, Claret, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Malaga, Marsala, Madeira, Moselle, Port, Rhine Wine (syn. Hock), Sauterne [sic], Haut Sauterne [sic], Sherry, Tokay."

                  [Note: of these, I actually find Angelica acceptable, and I have been struggling to come up with alternatives for Marsala and Madeira.]

                  You can see how effective I've been in my campaign! ;^)

                  * * * * *

                  But this is a very different thing that a reporter writing about "Cook's Champagne" or "Korbel Champagne" or "Gallo Port," for that matter. These are, after all, the names of the products, and it is ethically correct and accurate journalism to properly report the name of the product.

                  If, OTOH, the individual is writing an op-ed piece, he or she can complain to the high heavens, as loudly and as often as his or her editor will permit, about the misuse of such names. (And I hope they would.)


                  1. re: zin1953

                    In your campaign against the use of these terms, do you propose alternatives?

                    For example, what would American made Sherry wine be called?

                    (In the alternative, since "Sherry" is a made-up English word which only sounds something like the British pronunciation of Jerez, maybe we should make the Spanish call their wines Jerez?)

                    Wasn't Sauce Americain invented in Paris?

                    1. re: FrankJBN


                      In a word, "yes."

                      Just as French sparkling wines from OUTSIDE the Champagne region continue to use stylistic descriptions (e.g.: Brut, Extra Dry, etc.), so do would Port-and Sherry styled wines use similar terms.

                      Thus, while a American sparkling wine can remain a Brut, Extra Dry, or Blanc de Noirs, still be produced according to the méthode champenoise, and yet not be a "Champagne," so too can American-made "Ports" be called Ruby and Tawny (just as Australian "stickies") BUT without the word"Port" on the label. Similarly, a Sherry-styled wine can be called Fino, Amontillado, or Cream WITHOUT the word "Sherry" appearing on the label.

                      (Examples: Hardy's Whiskers Blake, an Australian Port-styled wine, simply says "Tawny" -- -- on the label; or Aragon Patricia just says "Cream" -- -- without the word "Sherry.")

                  2. re: Worzel Gummidge

                    "Removing the word Champagne wouldn't confuse, it would clarify."

                    Wrong. zin1953's comment re: Loss of market share is spot on.
                    You, Mr. Chowhound, know the difference between sparkling wine and champagne. Most of the rest of America does not. You can NEVER ignore the bottom line or forget who you are marketing to or you will not stay in business for very long.

                  3. re: Shayna Madel

                    OK, point taken, but we only have one more year to go . . . .

              2. I wouldn't, but to be fair, neither did they. The only mention of champagne was in the title of the blog. It might have been tongue-in-cheek, maybe even a deliberate oxymoron - I've never seen champagne that can be described as "cheap", even in France. At $6.95 it's probably not even a champagne method, or even a vat method, I'd expect it would be just a carbonated white wine, subject to revision once I examined the label.

                1. Yeah, we call lots of things "champagne" in this country that aren't really champagne by most of the world's standards. You can call the Dallas journalist names, but that's the local (i.e., American) usage, as ignorant as that may sound to a more cosmopolitan reader.

                  But what serious wine drinker doesn't understand the distinction between champagne from the Champagne region of France and the broader category of white sparklers made using the méthode champenoise (secondary fermentation in the bottle)? If you're not that kind of wine drinker, what do you care what it's being called?

                  A more useful distinction to me is the production method, which in Cook's case is charmat (secondary fermentation in steel tanks), aka the Metodo Italiano, the same used to make Prosecco. It's hard to achieve a tiny-bubble, creamy mousse in any way but in the bottle., but I still love many bulk-process wines as much as I love quote-real-unquote champagne. And what about French crémants? Are they inherently inferior because they aren't labelled with the C-word?

                  Secondary fermentation method can also be overrated: there are champagne-method sparklers from Champagne that are inferior to champagne-method Spanish cavas and bulk-process Spumantes. Cook's is in fact dreadful, in my experience. But the method of getting bubbles into the wine, its geographic origin, and what local government agencies allow or don't allow it to be called shoudn't be the overriding focal points for serious appreciators of sparkling wines. Forget the names: taste the wine.

                  1. The good news is that many California wineries are fighting pretty hard for their naming rights now - those that have worked Napa and Sonoma hard are having a hard time giving their name to people that open an office in those areas, import grapes from wherever and still call it by the region name. As they work to get these rights, maybe we'll get on board with Champagne treaty.

                    As much as folks want to say Champagne = Kleenex, that's exactly what wineries all over the world are working against. Imagine if Dodge started making a truck and called it the F150 - and said "everyone knows F150 is synonymous with Pickup Truck" or if every single red-headed comedic actress demanded to go by "Lucille Ball." In both cases, the brand and what one should expect would be diluted.

                    Once you start jumping into the world of wine, being able to clearly state what you like becomes important - if for no other reason than to be able to get that bottle you kinda sorta remember but can't quite put your finger on the name. If you really love that little Italian Sparkling wine in the stout-ish dark green bottle but are asking for Champagne, the wine folks will be pushing French wine upon French Wine upon French wine on you. It's not as silly as it seems when you realize that not all wine is the same and your favorites are easier to find once you get the naming. I understand the temptation to lump all wines into one big "who cares?" means that everyone can call those with knowledge "wine snobs," but once you consider it akin to knowing your way around town instead of aimlessly driving around for "whatever," I think it makes more sense.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Stephmo

                      "....... Imagine if Dodge started making a truck and called it the F150 - and said "everyone knows F150 is synonymous with Pickup Truck" .......

                      Except that the specifics here are that Dodge would be making a pickup called "Detroit". (or Dearborn, or wherever.) And...... it would also somewhat depend on how closely the "Detroit" mimicked the F-150.

                      I think it's more like if farmers in California started growing and selling Vidalia onions under that name. The folks in Vidalia, Georgia would be perturbed. AND the US government has protected the name 'Vidalia' in the Code of Federal Regulations. It's not like Vidalia onion plants couldn't be grown in other places, just as it's not like Schramsberg can't produce using typical methode champagnoise withFrench clone grapes in California. I think it may just be a combination of of political influence and the extent to which the term has been mis-used in this country.