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 12, 2013 1:44PM
Repub.   Go back to your trailer and drink your Bud.    You will listen to Limbaugh feed you a bunch of crap and you suck it in while he laughs at you sipping his French champagne.    As to telling the difference between good California champagne and French, I hear this all the time until a test is done and the person cannot tell the difference.   AS to Kentucky Burbon, what is your point?   Whether it is from Kentucky or Tenn. you could not tell the difference.   All of these high end products sell upon name recognition and nothing else.   Mercedes and BMW are expensive automobiles and top sellers but they certainly are not the best quality.    Their track record is so so but because of name recognition people with money buy them.  
Jan 11, 2013 9:14PM
Just one more reason to dislike the French!!  Who cares what they think - after all, this is America - shouldn't ALL food and drink come from AMERICA??  In fact, EVERYTING associated with the inaugration should be REQUIRED to be MADE IN AMERICA!  Maybe purchasing AMERICAN products the NOBAMA administraion would actually SUPPORT AMERICA and AMERICAN JOBS!  SO one has to ask, does this administraion really support American products and jobs??  I think not!
Jan 11, 2013 8:49PM
And we taxpayers are having on money spent on champagne.  Guess the reason is why?  This whole inauguration is a bunch of hoopla, especially when our economy is in such dire straights.  They couldn't use plain beer or wine.  Wow I hope all of us poor taxpayers are enjoying this screw job.
Jan 11, 2013 8:26PM
Kraft makes Kool Aid.   Might as well spend a few more pennies and get the cherry Kool Aid Jammers!
Jan 11, 2013 8:17PM
To "Spud 52": Right On Brother!! I used to puke that swill on a few occaisions.
Jan 11, 2013 8:16PM
champagne is just about carbonated vinigar. Glad he like USA made. He really shound not drink to kill anymore brain cells anyway
Jan 11, 2013 7:59PM
Just out of curiosity   just when did the french choice an American bubbly for their president.
Jan 11, 2013 7:56PM
Ah....! the famous US "Champagne" served with a dash of fairness and tolerance,two qualities of America!
Jan 11, 2013 7:53PM

The liquid is what it is...

As long as the label states origin, there should be no confusion...The French, their little self professed monopoly, and their self serving Campagne Bureau can go stick a baguette.

Jan 11, 2013 7:53PM

At least our President chose American, Korbel is excellent and has been consumed in our family for many special occasions.  Good choice Mr. President!

Jan 11, 2013 7:51PM
Oooo, I must have touched a nerve...truth hurts boys.
Jan 11, 2013 7:47PM
wow that evil 1%er barry hussein is having expensive champagne with his hoochie mama and his hollywood friends @ inauguration. wonder how many welfare rats he invited?
Jan 11, 2013 7:45PM
There is a correct way to do things and an incorrect way. Just follow the rules and you don't have to domonate everything that is not American
Jan 11, 2013 7:43PM
France irritates a lot of folks so wine is monor.
Jan 11, 2013 7:41PM
I wasn't invited, so I don't give a hoot what they drink nor what they call it. As for france(lower case on purpose) Who the hell cares what you wine about. You always wine. (yes it was misspelled on purpose to all you spell nazis). Hey nazi's and france in the same sentence, who would have thunk it??
Jan 11, 2013 7:33PM
why drink at all nothing to celebrate
Jan 11, 2013 7:33PM
No it is in fact Champagne and Korbel is the only company allowed to market it as such
Jan 11, 2013 7:31PM
F--k the french. Put a cork up your a$$ frenchie.
Jan 11, 2013 7:28PM
WHO CARES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  At least it's helping out something in America.  I guess now we are going to be in an International Champagne Cold War!!!!  Too many people with too much time on their hands!
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