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What's in a Name?

by Peter May

W  ineries in Napa Valley protested at the use of the word Napa on wines made elsewhere. Napa Ridge wines used to be made in Napa Valley but are now made in Sonoma County, using grapes from throughout the North and Central coasts Napa Valley is the best known wine producing area in America, and wineries there felt that Napa Ridge was trading on their name and would confuse consumers into buying the wine thinking it came from that most famous Californian valley. Napa Valley Vintners Association president Tom Shelton said misleading brand names "are a legal form of consumer fraud."

    I was reading that newspaper story in an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles while sipping a glass of house chianti. The wine was red and very pleasant, but it wasn't from Chianti. It was made a few miles away in the San Antonio winery. The menu also listed chablis and burgundy from the same winery, and champagne from Korbel in California.

    In Europe these names have legal protection, and wine sold under those names have legal restrictions on the grapes used, methods of cultivation and winemaking. It is not surprising the new world appropriated names from the old world. People crossed oceans for weeks or months to arrive on the shores of a far country. They then travelled perhaps for months or years before setting down. They planted grapes and started making wine. A home they'd never see again, and which was as far from them as the moon is to us. They made wines like they remembered from home and gave them the same names - a shorthand that everyone understood.

    But the world has dramatically shrunk. Aeroplanes whisk people from one side of the world to another in hours. And every high street stocks goods imported from the four corners of the world. It is as easy now to get Italian Chianti and French Burgundy in Los Angeles now as it is to get Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc in Rome and Paris.

    The time for taking famous names of old world wines has passed. New world wine makers with any pride want to identify their wines by their own names. It can be a wrench, and it can be difficult. Most winemakers use the grape variety to identify the wine style. But sparkling wine makers have found it hard to choose an alternative to champagne. Spain adopted the word Cava - meaning cellar, to signify sparkling wine made in traditional methods. South Africa uses Methode Cap Classique. And they are finding that there are benefits in having a unique name. People are asking for Cava by name in shops and restaurants. Lots of countries make sparkling wines, only Spain makes Cava.

    As the world links even close with trading agreements all winemakers will need to drop old world names. And the consumer will benefit. If you ask for Champagne you will be sure of drinking classic wine from France, rather than some cheap industrial brew injected with carbon dioxide.

If you have been, thanks for reading.

© Copyright Peter May 2002.

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3 April 2002