In 2006, the U.S. and E.U. entered into a wine trade agreement, one part of which was to restrict the future use of what the U.S. calls "semi-generic trade names" like Champagne, Chianti and Port.
The cool wineries in the U.S. changed wine names years ago to stop pretending to be European places that they're not. Quady winery calls its fortified red wine "Starboard." Schramsberg doesn't see any need to call its bubbly anything other than "sparkling wine." While Gallo and Korbel argue for the continued right to mislead consumers, wineries that change on their own have the high moral ground.
This is what surprises me about Imagery "White Burgundy." The Benzigers, who own Imagery, are generally considered good people: farmers, biodynamic pioneers, a multi-generation wine family. So why, in 2014, are they still selling a wine from Napa County called "White Burgundy?"
Joe Benziger is a good guy, an enthusiast about wine and life itself. He called me on Sunday to explain.
|James Thurber in the New Yorker
"The wine sells like you wouldn't believe," he said. "We don't want to break anything that's doing great. It's one of our biggest selling direct wines. I sell about 2500 cases a year, just through our wine club and through tasting room sales."
Unlike actual white Burgundy, which is almost all made from 100 percent Chardonnay*, this Imagery wine is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier, a red grape; the Pinot Meunier must be taken off the skins immediately (some interesting white Pinot Noirs are made this way.)
* (A few white Burgundies are made from Aligoté and in Saint-Bris, a village in Burgundy, the wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc, and are well worth seeking out.)
"We've been making it for 20 years," Benziger said. "The recipe has stayed the same, give or take a little Pinot Meunier."
Perhaps because the wine is rarely found in stores or restaurants -- you have to order it online or buy it in Imagery's tasting room -- I had never seen it until Thursday, and was shocked when I did. I emailed a photo of it to the Napa Valley Vintners, Sonoma County Vintners and BIVB (Burgundy Wine Board) to ask what they thought.
Sonoma County Vintners did not respond. The BIVB was not happy; a spokesperson said, "The specialists confirms that this is illegal. Thanks for the info. We will contact INAO." But I didn't know at the time that Imagery had been using the name for 20 years, so it is probably not illegal.
Napa Valley Vintners' response was interesting. The label above shows "Carneros, Napa County" as the region for the 2012 wine. Napa County is not the same as Napa Valley. That may be a significant difference.
"NVV believes very strongly that producers should respect and protect winegrowing place names and that location matters when it comes to wine," said Napa Valley Vintners communications director Patsy McGaughy. "In fact, we've fought all the way to the US Supreme Court to uphold this principle. Even if this label is technically allowed, we would urge the producer to use Chardonnay, not White Burgundy."
I think Imagery should change the name. This is not Gallo Hearty Burgundy, a well-known supermarket product, and the Benzigers are not Ernest Gallo. (For that matter, I think this kinder, gentler generation of Gallos should change that name too, and they have the marketing power to make an event of it. But I digress.)
What do you think? Let's vote.
And let's help out Joe Benziger: Please leave some suggestions for a new name in the comments.