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Are Place Names Important or Just Semantics?

Are Place Names Important or Just Semantics?

by Tim Elliott on April 14, 2008

I get a lot of press releases but don’t often publish them here as I don’t usually find an angle to blog about. But a release this morning by the Center for Wine Origins and Office of Champagne caught my eye for it’s use of a YouTube video:

As a longtime wine lover, I agree with the objectives of this group in protecting their place names but I wonder if the average American consumer really would understand the group’s message. Would consumers buy less Andre or Korbel if those producers were forced to remove the word “champagne” from their labels? Are consumers of American “sherry” or “port” really looking for the real deal from Spain or Portugal?

I doubt it.

Back when American producers were using European place names to label their wine blends there was a clear point of difference between a Napa Valley “burgundy” and Pinot Noir from the French region. Now there is less difference in the bottle outside of a handful of the finest vineyards.

So is this distinction still relevant in today’s market or is it just semantics?

  • ??? This is a question about protecting the quality that is Sherry/Port/Champange…Your right the average person doesn’t know the difference and that is why the names need to be protected. I know a ton of American’s who think they don’t like sherry because it’s associated with the crap put our in California under the same name. To protect the wines that are unique, we need to have name regulations in place.
    “Are consumers of American “sherry” or “port” really looking for the real deal from Spain or Portugal?”
    Of course they aren’t and that is the problem. Think of it from the point of view of a Sherry producer who has an American tell them they don’t really like sherry, only to find out all they have ever tasted is some bottom shelf Cali knockoff! As you know they have nothing in common, and yet people feel they are the same thing. UGH!

    What if you applied this to other products. Cheap cars labeled Porsche? Crap coffee labeled Kona? Or even more obivious, what if you bought a Fiji apple and you tasted it and it tasted like crap? Only what you bought was a lesser variety? Kobe beef from the local butcher who decides that he can sell it for more, if he labels it Kobe? Tell this to the Vidalia onion people or the Idaho Potato lobby!

    Yes these names have to be protected, along with names like Napa, and Wilamette Valley, etc…Imagine a Minnesota Napa Valley wine! It could happen without these protections.

  • Tim

    As I said in the post, I agree with the aims of the Center for Wine Origins but am not sure if their efforts are getting through to the average American wine consumer.

    Which begs the question: What can we wine bloggers do to support their efforts of educating the market?

    I like your examples of other products, as well, but this doesn’t prevent most of my neighbors from buying “parmesan” from Wisconsin 😉

  • Tim – Removing the word “champagne” would result in less people buying Korbel et al. There are only 3 outcomes, they buy less, the same or more.

    Whilst many wouldnt care and would continue to buy a name they recognised, all the while not caring about the faux region name. There are some who are looking for a cheap champagne, and when $6 wines stop using that word they’ll look elsewhere, or at least stop looking for champagne.

    As Ryan says, its a slippery slope with the minor transgressions paving the way to larger ones later.

    Today, Korbel and Moet drinkers may not mix, but when its a $26 California sparkling wine and a $29 Champagne you start to see an overlap in the consumer base, and thats where these false claims would be the most damaging.

  • Tim

    I agree with you Philip that the place name on under $10 sparkling wine is probably not as damaging as a $15-20 wine.

    But I would also expect if Korbel started calling their product the proper “sparking wine” and not “champagne” their sales would not decrease. The average consumer uses the term in a generic sense and would most likely continue to call it champagne no matter where the wine was made.

    I think the power of the brand name is more important for most consumers than the regional nomenclature.

  • Tim the point is not stopping consumers from buying the name, no matter where it is from. The point is that the consumer when it does buy a name can expect something from it, in a consistent way.

    People should know that when they buy something it is what they are paying for.

  • I propose that the fact Andre used the word “Champagne” on its labels indicates that the consumers have bought into the brand of the palce name, but have no concept of regionality or uniqueness of the word.

  • It really is important to protect place names for two reasons:

    1) To protect the consumer – so that he or she can be sure of the origin of the precise bottle they are spending their hard earned cash on; and
    2) To protect growers, who could see others from places with far cheaper overhead cost incorrectly labelling and driving them out of business.

    Where a wine comes from is EVERYTHING. To suggest otherwise is dangerous.

  • Wine bloke:

    I agree with your statement: “Where a wine comes from is EVERYTHING”


    If wines from various regions do not show their provenance (i.e. terroir), what sense would it make to label wines with a regional name?

  • Jon

    I agree with Arthur in that “terroir” or “regionality” is extremely important to a wines percieved reputation or quality. However, even when wine industry experts cannot agree wholly on the concept of “terroir”, how can we assume the general consumer can make that distinction.

    Regionality and protecting the regional concept is still important though. The classic example is Champagne, where 100,s of years of pedigree have established a perception of unrivalled quality, and consumers trust this perception. Therefore I would argue that protecting place names, or more importantly regionality, is extremely important to the commercial success/failure of a particular wine brand.

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