French irritated by Obama's inaugural 'champagne'

An industry group says bubbly planned for the inauguration lunch is mislabeled, but US law disagrees.

By Jason Notte Jan 11, 2013 1:23PM

Image: Couple toasting champagne glasses at restaurant table (Chris Ryan/OJO Images/Getty Images)You know, French champagne lobbyists, you make it really difficult not to crack jokes about snooty waiters and cartoon skunks when you quibble over trifles like the bubbly being served at President Barack Obama's inaugural lunch.

Just to illustrate how the Champagne Bureau spends its time when not sniffing at tourists who mispronounce coq au vin or chasing a female cat that's accidentally had white paint spilled down its back, the industry group scolded the inaugural committee for recklessly throwing around the word "champagne" on its luncheon menu.

The committee decided to celebrate the president's swearing in with a version of Korbel Natural Russian River Valley Champagne, which the Champagne Bureau says is decidedly not champagne.

"We would urge the inaugural committee to follow that law and not state the sparkling wine being served is champagne, as they did in today's release," Sam Heitner, the director of the Champagne Bureau, told The Hill. "Champagne only comes from Champagne, France."

Except when it doesn't. Many countries around the world restrict the use of "champagne" to sparkling wine from the Champagne region, but U.S. law is a bit different. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has spelled out when wineries can use certain designations and just how they can use them. The use of the term "champagne" is protected under the "semi-generic" law 27 CFR 4.24, which dictates that the word can be applied only to sparkling wines produced before 2006, as long as their point of origin is clearly spelled out on the label. This is where the Champagne Bureau and the inaugural committee agree to disagree.

"U.S. law clearly states that the full name of the wine label must include where it comes from," Heitner told The Hill. "Under the law, the label for this wine would state 'California Champagne.'"

Perhaps some portion of the label was lost in translation, as the inaugural committee's press release indicates that the sparkling wine being served with dessert is "Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California." Though the "California" portion seems to clearly indicate the wine's home state, Heitner insists it's still a violation of U.S. law.

This isn't Brown-Forman (BF.A) subsidiary Korbel's first go-round with the Champagne lobby. Founded in 1882 by two Czechoslovakian brothers, Korbel has used "Champagne" to describe its sparkling wine for more than a century and is often grandfathered into Champagne designation laws by using the "California Champagne" label. It's been served at six inaugurations, including president Obama's last in 2009.

For now, France itself is sitting out this bubbly battle, as it is far too preoccupied with its transition back to a socialist government and the tax-driven departure of actor Gerard Depardieu to notice. People involved with planning the inauguration seem not to care what the Champagne Bureau has to say about their wine selection either.

"The Champagne Lobby should have a glass of their own product and relax," said Matt House, a spokesman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

More on Money Now

Jan 11, 2013 3:06PM
Who gives a crap what the French think about anything.
Jan 11, 2013 2:57PM
Glad to see him supporting an American made product...maybe that's why France is acting so juvenile.
You +1'd this publicly.
Sonoma County's Russian River Valley, is one of California's most prestigious wine regions, striking an impressive balance between quantity and quality. Korbel Natural Russian River Valley Champagne is affordable to all and sets a good example of keeping his party well within budget.
Jan 11, 2013 3:23PM
Buy American - great way to start his next 4 years
Jan 11, 2013 3:15PM
I read an article on MSN earlier about the French asking to stop making fun of them and tarnishing their image...then you read something like this and well, you just have to stop giving us ammunition, France
Jan 11, 2013 3:17PM
To damn many committees.  Just get some Mad Dog 2020 and forget about it!
Jan 11, 2013 3:29PM
Jan 11, 2013 3:05PM
It is the Russian River Valley which covers the wine region counties in Northern California.  I guess somebody has to get an education in Geography before posting crap such as Czars and Russia.
Jan 11, 2013 3:06PM
People learn to read correctly, it is a  version of Korbel Natural Russian River Valley Champagne, but is made in Calfornia.
Jan 11, 2013 3:21PM

It doesn't matter where it came from ....the broke American tax payer paid for it..  Hope they enjoyed it.

Jan 11, 2013 4:03PM

So let me get this straight.  Millions of Americans, most of which make less than $50,000 a year, just had tax increases and this is the top Money headline? 


I know the payroll tax just went back to what it used to be, but it is still a tax hike.  The middle and lower classes are feeling the brunt of this fiscal deal.  People like my family working hard to get by took a big hit today and last Friday when we saw our first check. 


Yet MSN headlines are dominated with gun control talk, some Republican moron saying something about the rape shutdown issue, and what Obama will be drinking on our dime.


The liberal left never ceases to amaze me with their complete lack of intelligence.  Today is another new low. 


I'd like to say this is the worst Presidential administration and Congress in history, but that's not really true.  They are accomplishing all the irresponsible, idiotic, country-destroying nonsense they've set out to accomplish.  And the liberal left followers are too shallow eating up the gun control type issues to notice.  Each of you needs to slap yourself in the face and wake up.

Jan 11, 2013 3:20PM
Buy AMERICAN !!!!  Frenchie, French this...
Jan 11, 2013 3:15PM
We serve American champagne, if it were reversed wouldn't they serve French champagne.
Jan 11, 2013 3:24PM
Maybe Congress should pass a law saying that only automobiles from Detroit can use the term, and that the term "cars" are for those made anywhere else.
Jan 11, 2013 2:58PM
Because as we all know, the french sound exactly like Peppi La'Pew
Jan 11, 2013 4:08PM


"We would urge the inaugural committee to follow that law and not state the sparkling wine being served is champagne, as they did in today's release,"



HA, HA, HA, HAAAAAA!  "Follow the LAW"??????   This is Obama!  He doesn't have to "follow the law"!  He IS the law!


If he doesn't "follow the law" and pass a budget,.....what makes these crazy frenchies think he's going to "follow the law" on the issue of "Champaign"? 


If he doesn't follow the law and restrict guns being sold to Mexican drug gangs, what makes them think Obama gives a crap about champaign law?


If he makes "recess appointments" when the senate is not in recess,....what makes them think Obama will bow to "champaign law"? 


If Obama is willing to file a frivilous lawsuits to stop (Boeing) union jobs from leaving a blue state and moving to a red state and to keep states from helping to enforce federal immigration laws,.....what makes the French think he give a hoot about where his champaign comes from? 

Jan 11, 2013 2:46PM
Who cares what champagne the skunk drinks...
Jan 11, 2013 3:01PM

US "Champagne" is technically using the method champagne and not true champagne. French Champagne is an "appellation controlee" is generally from Epernay in the Champagne region of France.

Jan 11, 2013 4:37PM
We bailed them out from 2 world wars at a horrible cost to our country and they continue to bi&@* about the US?
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