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 4:21PM
 Korbel is probably avintage botled by the Pelosi estates! 
Jan 11, 2013 4:21PM

They should be serving Boones Farm for this joke of a celebration. Wait... why insult Boones Farm? Sorry BF. I could pee in a boot and they could put that on ice.

Jan 11, 2013 4:20PM
I've been a Korbel fan for years.  Good champagne and affordable,plus made in the USA. I do not care what France thinks. We also now grow the best cannabis along with the best wine and champage. sometimes we are a great country.
Jan 11, 2013 4:17PM
Look the French are normally in another planet, but they are right on this one. Champagne is Champagne from France, just like Kentucky Bourbon is from Kentucky and not Paris.  I love Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese, it is one of a kind and from one place, Parma, Italy.  If i go to a local supermarket and they pawn off Parmesan cheese or Parmesan style cheese etc. I know its bogus and the consumer should not be fooled by anyone selling imitation junk for the real thing.  Just think if someone put Cadillac on a Yugo.  We would of course not be fooled in the USA but in a third world country they could believe it, although it is fraud.  Same goes for Champagne.
Jan 11, 2013 4:17PM

The government of France has more important french to fry!  Buy, serve and drink American, that's my motto! Viva La Liberty (or something like that)!!!!

Jan 11, 2013 4:16PM

After teaching several intellectual property classes, this one always gets my students.  Technically, the "committee" has to say something negative about the usage and urge correct usage to promote the argument. 


Although I'm Republican, thumbs up for buying American.  Californian Champagne (ah-hem, "Sparking Wine") is pretty darned good and I've had alot of the French stuff. 

Jan 11, 2013 4:16PM
"For now, France itself is sitting out this bubbly battle, as it is far too preoccupied with its transition back to a socialist government" is quoted from the above article. The Champagne Bureau is a lobbyist group in DC. Although I could care less about what makes sparking wine champagne or not, and I don't really care about the "laws" of wine, I do take issue with misdirection due to title ("French irritated..."). Again -lobbyist group in DC angry, not France. Lay off, learn to read, and stop falling into the "stupid American" trap where we strong righteous Americans bash the lesser countrymen.
Jan 11, 2013 4:15PM
If it says Champagne on the bottle, then take it up the the bottler...not the consumer.
Jan 11, 2013 4:14PM
When are the French NOT irritated by something?
Jan 11, 2013 4:11PM
"We would urge the inaugural committee to follow that law..."

That's rich - democ-rats follow the law?  Too much.
Jan 11, 2013 4:10PM
I usually drink Korbel Brut but now I cannot wait to try Korbel Natural Russian River! Best kind of American advertisement!
Jan 11, 2013 4:10PM
I thought they would be toasting with Champale.
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 4:05PM
Yes, broke American tax payer.  No wonder Mercedes has set a record selling their cars in the U.S. right along with BMW.   What an idiot.  All these rich people crying they are going broke because of those high taxes and yet they keep buying multi million dollar mansions.   Old Kim and her boyfriend just paid 11 million for their cottage.  I wonder if they are drinking California champagne?   If U.S. taxes were so bad, why would the Russian fertilizer king buy a 88 million dollar apartment in NYC for his daughter?   All you saps will believe anything Limbaugh tells you as you sip on your Bud and he sips on his French champagne.
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 4:02PM
One more time France makes an **** of itself. There appears to be no end to it.
Jan 11, 2013 4:01PM

Who really cares when were not invited to the shin-dig.


Jan 11, 2013 3:59PM
Sorry Pat if it walks like a duck and squacks like a duck, it is a duck.   Tell me it you were blindfolded and did not know the origin of each champagne you could tell the difference?  Also, by law in the U.S. they can call it champagne.   The only reason French Champagne is called that is becaue of the region and nothing else.  There is no difference in taste or anything.   As to the idiot about the autombiles, Mercedes are also built in Mexico and not just Germany but they are still called Mercedes.   If the company was calling their champagne French champagne, then the French would have an argument.  They do not so the French have no argument.   The French have basically priced themselves out of the market on all their wines and their champagne.  You can buy equally as good or better wines than the French here in the U.S.   There are also many French wine companies who have bought property in both the Napa-Sonama area and Western Oregon and are growing grapes and making wine at those locations.  Good for Obama that he is supporting American producers.
Jan 11, 2013 3:59PM
At least it isn't Mad Dog 20/20 or Thunderbird.
Jan 11, 2013 3:58PM

It's probably not very good champagne, so what's the problem?  French champagne is leagues beyond the American version. Don't get me wrong, I'm a loyal, tax-paying American.  And I applaud the Inaugural Committee for keeping it local.  But there is no comparison.  Just sayin'

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