Illegal immigration may be a hot issue in
this year’s US elections, but European Union authorities took action
recently against an illegal entry into their territory – American
Customs authorities in Anvers, Belgium, acted swiftly when they
discovered a shipment of more than 3,200 bottles of André sparkling
wine that was labeled “California Champagne” from “André Champagne
Cellars.” That’s a no-no in the EU, where the name Champagne is legally
protected and can be used only for sparkling wine from the Champagne
region in northern France. The wine was destroyed after the European
owner relinquished rights to the product rather than face any further
The US agreed two years ago that its sparkling wines should be called
“sparkling wines,” but the law grandfathered an exception for some older
brands, such as André, that are still allowed to use the word
Champagne on their labels. Never mind that these are the wines that bear
the least resemblance to the French ideal.
The wine’s destruction was ballyhooed today by the Office of Champagne
USA, established to promote the real deal while protecting its trademark
name. Perhaps someone at Gallo, the company that owns and produces
André, forgot about the Europeans’ sensitivity and shipped some wine
with the wrong labels. But the incident highlights a major American
hypocrisy. We insist on genuine products and protection of intellectual
copyrights. Yet we also want to be able to call our sparkling wine
“Champagne” when it isn’t, the French be damned.
I’m on record as touting the quality of America’s top sparkling wines.
I believe they should be celebrated not as Champagne knock-offs but as
excellent bubblies that express the terroir and character of the land
where they’re grown and the people who make them. It’s notable that the
top U.S. brands do not use the word Champagne on their label. Good for
The brands that do continue to usurp the Champagne name, such as André,
continue to sell because they are inexpensive and because people like
them. I’d wager they don’t sell because of the word Champagne on their
labels. But the cynical companies continue to abuse the Champagne name
because they believe their customers are susceptible idiots and because
they don’t have enough confidence in their own products to sell them on
Champagne (or a good US sparkling wine) for real friends, real pain for sham friends!
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