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Put a cork in Aussie “Champagne”

This year, Labor Day marks more than the traditional end of summer, it also brings an end to what we’ve come to know as Australian “Champagne.”
Not to worry, you’ll still be able to purchase your favorite down-under bubbly but with the official enforcement of the EU-Australia Wine Trade Agreement beginning Sept. 1, you’ll no longer see Australian wines labeled Champagne, Port or Sherry.
“This agreement between Australia and the European Union is a step forward for protecting consumers,” said Sonia Smith, director of the Champagne Bureau. “When consumers buy a bottle of wine, they should be able to rely on the truth of the label.”
According to its Web site, the Champagne Bureau is the “official U.S. representative of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), a trade association which represents the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France.
According to the Champagne Bureau, more than half of all sparkling wines sold in the U.S. are mislabeled Champagne.
”It’s only Champagne when the wine is from Champagne, France,” Smith said. “Australia joins the European Union and a long list of nations, all of which have agreed to recognize and protect wine regional names such as Champagne.”
You can’t label a sweet wine as Port unless is comes from the Porto region, Sherry has to come from Jerez and Chianti Classico must be from Chianti, among the many wines and regions now protected under various international agreements.
However, as you might notice by reading between the lines, in a loophole in an existing law, American vintners still can label their sparkling wines as Champagne.
A Dec., 2006, Congressional action banned the use of 16 European place names and asked that domestic sparkling wines should be labeled just that, sparkling wines.
However, a grandfather clause sidestepped the issue by allowing an exception for some older brands which still use the word Champagne on their labels.
Since then, the Champagne Bureau has pushed their “Unmask the Truth” campaign, which features a Zorro-like mask over a bottle of American Champagne. Or “Champagne” in quotes, as the bureau likes to write it.
“U.S. consumers deserve the same protection as Australians”, lamented Smith.
According to the Champagne Bureau, there are seven U.S. winemaking regions Napa Valley, Sonoma, Oregon, Paso Robles, Walla Walla, Long Island and Washington State) supporting the effort to protect Champagne.
Together with seven international regions (Jerez, Porto, Chianti Classico, Tokaj, Victoria, Rioja, Spain and Western Australia), the American regions signed a Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin, which Smith said recognizes the importance of protecting wine locations and their names.
Will it make consumers quit asking for “Champagne” when ever they feel like something bubbly?
Hardly. Whether it’s legal or not, “Champagne” has become a near-generic term for anything bubbly, whether it’s a Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or French Champagne.
We don’t disagree with the protection of place names, we simply recognize it’s a long uphill battle to convert the vocabulary of someone simply looking for a delightful refresher.

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