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.


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457Comments
Jan 11, 2013 3:24PM
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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 3:23PM
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Buy American - great way to start his next 4 years
Jan 11, 2013 3:21PM
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Was MD2020 and Thunderbird out of stock?
Jan 11, 2013 3:21PM
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It doesn't matter where it came from ....the broke American tax payer paid for it..  Hope they enjoyed it.

Jan 11, 2013 3:20PM
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Buy AMERICAN !!!!  Frenchie, French this...
Jan 11, 2013 3:18PM
Jan 11, 2013 3:18PM
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Damn Frogs, always complaining about something.  Go ahead and drink like you mean it Mr. Prez.  The next four years you may need more than champagne- won't be able to afford it-you will have to just drink beer; like the rest of us poor Americans.  
Jan 11, 2013 3:17PM
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To damn many committees.  Just get some Mad Dog 2020 and forget about it!
Jan 11, 2013 3:15PM
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We serve American champagne, if it were reversed wouldn't they serve French champagne.
Jan 11, 2013 3:15PM
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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 3:14PM
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Champagne comes only from the Champagne valley in France.   It may look and smell and taste like champagne, but if it is not from the Champagne valley in France, then it is sparkling wine.  
Jan 11, 2013 3:13PM
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We cannot think of champagne as a generic term... why have copyrights, trademarks and patents?  we might as well do away with them... Respectfulness is dying!!
Jan 11, 2013 3:13PM
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dumb, dumb, he & she do not have any class and certainly do not know what champagne tastes like.  Don't know the difference between bubbling water(seltzer) from champagne and he calls himself President and she First Lady - yuk - how about coal miner and cleaning lady - now that's a great title for each....I'll have champagne and enjoy it but not for his inauguration which he doesn't deserve, but when he leaves office........
Jan 11, 2013 3:07PM
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That idiot doesnt know anymore about champagne then he does about being a president.
Jan 11, 2013 3:07PM
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Dumb Dumb doesn't know champagne from soda water - class - no class - ugh!  No inauguration necessary, we're stuck with soda water.
Jan 11, 2013 3:06PM
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Who gives a crap what the French think about anything.
Jan 11, 2013 3:06PM
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People learn to read correctly, it is a  version of Korbel Natural Russian River Valley Champagne, but is made in Calfornia.
Jan 11, 2013 3:05PM
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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 3:04PM
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I am in favor of recognizing the term as completely generic.  Most people seem to think it is anyway.
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