Obama inauguration “Champagne” angers French

The Champagne Bureau in Washington has attacked plans to serve Californian “Champagne” at President Barack Obama’s inauguration lunch on 21 January.


Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California, will be served with dessert at the lunch for 200 guests in the Capitol Building following Obama’s swearing-in.

Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, has hit out at the decision.

“US law clearly states that the full name of the wine label must include where it comes from. Under the law, the label for this wine would state ‘California Champagne’,” Heitner told congressional newspaper The Hill.

“While we do not support this practice, it is US law — and we would urge the inaugural committee to follow that law and not state the sparkling wine being served is Champagne. Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.”

Despite Heitner’s protests, the wine is labelled in accordance with US law.

While using the name “Champagne” to describe sparkling wines that are not from the French region is banned by most countries, American law is more flexible.

Korbel Natural Russian River Valley "Champagne"

Korbel Natural Russian River Valley “Champagne”

It prohibits the term for newer sparkling wines but allows it for those produced before 2006, on the condition that their origin is featured in the name.

Heitner told The Hill that rather than seeking to denigrate Californian sparkling wine, he wanted to ensure that American consumers were not being misled.

It is the eighth time Russian River Valley fizz Korbel Natural has been served at a presidential inauguration; a tradition that began in 1985 with Ronald Regan.

For the first time in history, two wines from New York will be served at the Obama lunch – a Finger Lakes Riesling and a Merlot from Long Island.

Tierce 2010 dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes, a collaboration from Anthony Road Winery, Fox Run Vineyards and Red Newt Cellars, will be served with the starter: steamed lobster with New England clam chowder.

Meanwhile, Bedell Cellars 2009 Merlot from the North Fork of Long Island, will be served with the main course: hickory-grilled bison.

“This is a major breakthrough for New York wines,” said Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.

6 Responses to “Obama inauguration “Champagne” angers French”

  1. Martin Cody says:

    I completely agree with the Champagne Bureau. Does Spain call their sparkling wines Champagne? Does Italy? No, Cava and Prosecco, respectively, as long as they meet the production method requirements as in Champagne. It’s unfortunate we cannot respect the rules. Equally unfortunate is many will now incorrectly believe they’re sipping Champagne when they are not. There are many fabulous producers of “sparkling wine” in California and rarely will you see them market it as Champagne. Korbel it would seem is preying on the obvious marketing cache of “champagne” over “sparkling wine” for commercial benefit.

    Martin Cody
    Cellar Angels,LLC

    • David says:

      @Martin also be aware that many pinot noir, cabernet s., and merlot grape varietals are grown IN SPAIN and used to make Cava.

      Champagne is an English word and has been so for centuries; it’s obscene to me that speech be curtailed for commercial purposes. I also completely reject the French lobby’s insistence on using the term “sparkling wine”. It’s one thing to trademark the name Champagne; to force a producer to use another term entirely is beyond the pale.

      The French should focus less on lobbyists and lawyers and more on making good products. It’s not as if producers like Korbel are making poor products that diminish the value of the word champagne.

  2. Ross Keerslake says:

    Huh, it’s like piracy of Champagne? Film and music piracy is already cracked down on….why can’t we have the Champagne police and lock up these culprits!

  3. Sidney Wells says:

    I’m sure the Champaigne commission can wipe away their tears with Le Kleenex.

  4. Giovanni, Turin - Italy says:

    Dear Martin,
    to be more precise, the Italian equivalent of Champagne is called Spumante “Metodo Classico” (like French Methode Champenoise). The main region of production of Spumante Metodo Classico are Franciacorta DOCG, Trento DOC and Altalanga DOCG.

    Prosecco is produced with a different technique called “Metodo Martinotti-Charmat” (Charmat process) where the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks or steel vessels. To produce Prosecco we use a local grape variety called “glera” whereas in Franciacorta, Trentino and Altalanga we use mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with other varieties.

  5. Robert Cope says:

    Perhaps sad to say, as in best wines, France is falling behind California. In blind taste tests I expect Korbel to do particularly well — maybe another, as in, 1976-year embarrassment for French pride?

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