We bloggers have quite a forum, but sometimes we go overboard in our zeal. Take my friend Tom Wark’s blog entry a while back that he titled, A Dying Culture’s Last Words.
Tom’s first paragraph: “The European Community wants to ban the sale of U.S. wines that carry on their label the terms "Clos", "Chateau", "Vintage", "Vintage Character", and "Classic", among others,” gives us the reason for his post, which is to point out that the European demand is nonsense.
Let me first say that I agree with some of Tom’s sentiment. My issue is with his rhetoric. Tom brings up Europe’s imperialist past and also tries to make the point that the Europeans are sliding into insignificance.
Whether true or not, those points have nothing to do with the wine label issue, and they actually make his post sound more silly than some of the words Europeans want to ban.
Almost at the end of his post Tom said, “I have no way of knowing this, but my gut tells me that U.S. trade negotiators will eventually cave, forget the obscene silliness of this European demand and agree to accept a ban on American winemakers…”
That is disingenuous. Tom knows that this issue is part of a wine trade agreement between the Europeans and the U.S. that was signed in 2006 and that expires in March of 2009. The trade negotiators should have protected U.S. wine producers from the possibility of this threatened ban by signing a much tighter (and maybe longer term) wine trade agreement in the first place.
One other way of looking at the issue is that the ‘Wild West” approach applied to wine labeling practices in the U.S. often leads to tension in trade talks. Hell, our labeling practices lead to misrepresentation right here at home, just ask a few wine producers in Napa Valley.
I find that many wine consumers in the U.S. raised on California wine (and I think Tom fits that description), simply have little understanding—and little patience—with the way things are done in the European wine world. Europeans have generally put some effort into trying to provide consumers with a measure of information concerning what is inside the bottle. It’s not their fault that consumers in the U.S. are uninterested in finding out what the labels mean.
For instance, before listing the proposed banned words in his first paragraph, Tom could have discovered that ‘Vintage Character’ is a particular term used for a particular bottling of Port. He may think it’s silly to protect the term, but it is a term to describe a particular wine that is produced and bottled in a particular place in Portugal. For that matter, in Italy and Spain, the word ‘Reserve’ on a label refers to the aging process of the wine; in the U.S., the word means absolutely nothing beyond its potential to make us think the wine is worth more money.
The fact that Europeans seem to go overboard on some of the words that they consider sacrosanct for European labels is why we have trade negotiations, and why we need smart trade negotiators to make agreements that are of mutual benefit.
I don’t think it does any good to use demagoguery or culture war rhetoric just because you don’t understand or are uninterested in a particular issue.
If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
April 2009. All rights reserved.