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 3:01PM

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 3:00PM
Jan 11, 2013 2:58PM
Because as we all know, the french sound exactly like Peppi La'Pew
No wonder no one likes the French or the Skunk.
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 2:57PM

The Chinese tried to market their version of a tequila and tried using the Tequila word on the bottles. The Mexicans of course werenot happy with the Chinese idea since Tequila is a city in the State of Jalisco and the area from which the real Tequila made from the agave plant got its name. The Chinese had to find a different name for their version, the International Court ruled..and so Tequila is only made in Mexico.


Champagne I don't really care much for..if the Russians from CA want to make their version, fine by me.  I am not drinking any of them.  Especially not if a bottle is more than 50 Euros...

Jan 11, 2013 2:57PM
That figures he would use Russian champagne, since his cabinet is made up of all Czars.  That shows you the way he is leaning in trying to ruin, i mean run our country the russian Bolshevik style.

You're an idiot, the Russian River Valley is an AVA located in California.
Jan 11, 2013 2:52PM

It's simple, it it is not from Champagne, France... it is NOT champagne. PERIOD.

Jan 11, 2013 2:50PM

well they broke another law. so they should all go to jail.

Just shows how stupid we have become with special interests. 

Who knew that to be champagne it had to come from champagne france.

Oh well at least i can sleep easy tonight knowing i learned something new...

Jan 11, 2013 2:49PM
That figures he would use Russian champagne, since his cabinet is made up of all Czars.  That shows you the way he is leaning in trying to ruin, i mean run our country the russian Bolshevik style.
Jan 11, 2013 2:46PM
Who cares what champagne the skunk drinks...
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