Thursday, September 20, 2012

US trade negotiators hate consumers

Did you know "chateau" has an actual meaning on a French wine label? Honestly I did not, until I learned this week that the EU is negotiating with the US to take that meaning away, not just in the land of Chateau St. Jean, but even in Europe.

Currently, a wine that says "chateau" on the label in France must be made from estate grapes. We Americans can't deal with those restrictions on our freedoms.

"Estate bottled" under US law means 100% of the grapes must come from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery in the viticultural area, and the wine has to be made and bottled in the same area. Kind of like "chateau." Except "chateau" is in some foreign language, so it doesn't matter to US.

When we finish using our blunt market power to steamroll the meaning out of "chateau," I propose US trade negotiators toast with a glass of California Champagne, or perhaps Gallo Hearty Burgundy. Maybe they can light up a Havana Soul cigar (made in Miami) with a glass of Zinfandel Port.


The US is the bad guy in just about every international trade negotiation regarding wine and spirits. (And not just those: we're always fighting other countries for the right to sell them genetically modified food.) Our trade negotiators don't care about giving consumers accurate information. Instead, they care about letting our big businesses market dumbed-down crap. This approach is institutional and doesn't change in Democratic or Republican administrations.

To be fair, I like Chateau Ste Michelle, the company that would benefit most from this change. The  winery makes good wine at good prices, has been a leader in technical advancement in Washington, and is generous to consumers in many ways. But would it kill them to produce a "Ste Michelle" label for sales to Europe of wines made from purchased grapes? How many bottles of Washington Riesling are Germany's neighbors buying anyway?

Ditto Chateau St. Jean, a longtime quality winery currently in the disorganized hands of Treasury Wine Estates, the company created when Foster's spun off its wine brands. Would it kill them to sell their non-estate Cabernet in Europe, however many bottles that's going to be, as St. Jean?

Normally when the US government makes an anti-consumer decision on wine labeling, I suspect the very influential E. & J. Gallo Winery, or possibly Constellation Brands. However, in this case neither company has a brand that I can see with "Chateau" in the name.

It's possible that Chateau Ste Michelle is behind this trade push. But it's just as likely that the US trade mission's default position is to argue for any trifling whim of US businesses, consumers be damned.

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John M. Kelly said...

Makes me wonder if negotiations are ongoing with the Pope to take the meaning out of "Saint"

Anonymous said...

The meaning also includes the fact there must be a Chateau on the property, some are old equipment sheds or other outer buildings as the original chateau fell down but there must be a building, except where there isn’t , some of the old Bordeaux Chateaus haven’t had vineyards for a while and the name applies to a building and is used by another Chateaux its all quite complicated. In the New World its often a brand and nothing else. Many of the “Euros” not just the French would like to see these changes, but the real Chateauxs are against it.

Mark Andrew Sinnott said...

Blake, I think you are over-reacting and off the mark on this one.

This is not a case of misleading consumers about the origins of a product (Champagne, Hearty Burgundy, etc). In those cases I agree that producers should be banned from their misuse.

In this case it is simply using a generic word to mean something different than its origins. This happens all the time and is how languages evolve. Are we to be handcuffed to the strictest meaning of words according to their etymological roots? If so, better get ready to toss out 75% of the modern English language.


W. Blake Gray said...

Mark: I admit I didn't know Chateau had meaning and it doesn't in the US. And that's fine, it means something different here. I don't see why we should try to change the meaning in France.

But on a broader point, me, over-reacting? ME?????!!!!@@$SX&&*@