Monday, December 29, 2014

Korbel winemaker lies on TV about Champagne and sparkling wine

What's the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine? How would you answer that question?

The correct answer is "Champagne is a kind of sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region in France." But that's not what the head winemaker from Korbel said on the San Francisco Fox affiliate, KTVU, on the morning news on Saturday.

The U.S. government has fought Europe for years for Korbel to have the right to keep calling its sparkling wine "Champagne," so it's not surprising that Paul Ahvenainen says his company's product is something it's not.

What is surprising is that Korbel director of winemaking Paul Ahvenainen pissed all over J, Schramsberg, Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Roederer Estate, and every other maker of quality bubbly who follows international law and actually calls their product "sparkling wine."

Ahvenanien says that Champagne is defined by secondary fermentation in the bottle. Not true, but not outrageous.

Then he says,

Sparkling wine, on the other hand, can either be done in huge tanks and then filtered into bottles or even just artificially carbonated.

This is a lie, and it's done for malicious purposes. "Sparkling wine" is as generic a term as "white wine;" it could be Dom Perignon or Andre. Or Korbel. Ahvenanien is deliberately insulting California competitors like the ones I named above that are honest enough to correctly name their product.

As a media person, I call out KTVU for allowing this lie to go unquestioned. I know we give people the forum to state their views, accurate and inaccurate, but KTVU should have had one of its morning bubbleheads at least say, "But isn't Champagne a place in France?"

UPDATE: On Monday, KTVU had a representative of LVMH on the morning news, and he correctly defined Champagne and sparkling wine. He also brought a bottle of Domaine Chandon and said sparkling wine made by Champagne houses in California can have good quality and value. I wonder if this was a makeup broadcast?*

Vote for the face of Champagne!
In case you missed it, Champagne this month pissed off all wine professionals who have a conscience by attempting to sue an Australian wine educator into bankruptcy. I may be angry at Champagne, but I'm glad to see the truth represented on TV -- on Fox no less!

Second update: Seth Box, who appeared Monday on KTVU to promote LVMH's bubblies, emailed me to say that appearance was booked more than a week in advance. So KTVU was being "Fair and Balanced" in the traditional Fox way: Liar gets 10 minutes, truth teller gets 3 minutes 2 days later. Well, better than nothing.

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Unknown said...

Huh? Didn't get why we should all be outraged...about the Korbel comments...sorry but the explanation was lacking.

Unknown said...

It’s soooo clear that what Kobel making is “Sparking wine” and they should not call it “Champagne”.
Also it is not fair that Champagne sue an Australian wine educator into bankruptcy but not fighting against the big company.
So many evil companies/associations on this planet. Sigh…

James said...

To the average consumer who purchases a sparkling product in a liquor store, they will ask for champagne, whether they want Andre, Korbel on any European sparkler for instance. And since most of this product is purchased the last two weeks of the year, it would appear that only wine geeks are insulted by what the Korbel winemaker said. After 47 years selling this type of product (from Dom to Andre in all price ranges) from the wholesale and winery level in a large metro market, I think I can speak with some knowledge on the subject.

W. Blake Gray said...

James, shouldn't it be part of your role to tell people what Champagne is? And what sparkling wine is?

Where are people going to learn, if not from you?

Unknown said...

Californian Champagne is as unethical as Chinese Microsoft Windows 8

James said...

Regarding your reply to my thoughts on this subject. Yes, it was part of my job to explain to retailers and their employees the differences, but how that info transfers to the consumer is another matter. Korbel have had the legal right to call their product champagne. I also feel when listening to the clip I felt he was referring to other ways the product is produced in CA. One other point from your article. All of the high-end sparkling products you said were insulted by Korbel all have deep European roots in the wine business, except Schramsberg which until the mid-60's had been a run down facility, with a history of many owners since it was founded. It would only be natural for those wineries not to call their CA product Champagne.
Finally, I do think the Korbel winemaker could have taken a few seconds to explain in more detail, but, you have to remember, this is television and they may have allotted only so much time for this particular segment.

W. Blake Gray said...

James: I only ran about a minute of the segment, but Ahvenainen's appearance on KTVU lasted nearly 10 minutes, much of which was spent opening a bottle and oohing and aahing over its deliciousness.

There was plenty of time for a better definition of "sparkling wine."

Dan said...

Secondary fermentation in a bottle is a minor aspect of "Methode Champenoise". Using the right varietals (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) and the way the grapes are pressed ( whole cluster with the hard press fraction rejected ). This is critical to avoid green underripe flavors that are inherent to grapes picked between 16-18 brix. These two factors are what separates the quality producers from the other guys..

Pam Strayer said...

I would say the most egregious thing Korbel says everyday is that this sparkling wine is Champagne BUT THEY DO NOT USE THE GRAPES GROWN IN CHAMPAGNE. FRANCE.

They use French Colombard (not grown in Champagne), Sangiovese (an Italian varietal not grown in Champage), and Chardonnay. Only the last varietal is one of the traditional Champagne grapes.

Patrick Frank said...

Hi folks. The word "champagne" has morphed in meaning, like words tend to do over time. As James said, to most people in the USA it means "sparkling wine." Words change their meaning. Take the word "vintage" for example: It used to be a noun meaning "grape harvest," but now it's an adjective meaning "pleasantly old." I think, rather than complaining and resisting the passage of time, we had just better deal with this fact.