Napa Victory a Problem for Cheap Wine

I caught a story on NPR yesterday, EU Agrees to Protect Napa Wines’ Good Name, that confirmed that Napa Valley wine makers will finally get satisfaction in the European Union. A text story on the same topic is, Napa Vineyards Gain Special Status:

Just like the protected regions of France’s wine country, at long last, the wineries of Napa now have their own protected region as recognized by the European Union. We joined the celebration at the German Consulate today to learn what this means for Napa’s 400 wineries…
The geographic indication, or G.I. status, has another impact. From this point forward, no company in the European Union can register Napa Valley for wine. The E.U. is an important market for wine exports. Fifty-two percent of all California wine goes to the E.U., about one-fourth of that is from Napa Valley.

What’s good new for the fine wine makers of Napa Valley may prove problematic for U.S. makers of cheap wines. Low end jug wines from Gallo and box wines from Franzia, among many others, feature names like “Burgundy” which is also a geographic indication with restricted use in the E.U. It’s likely that pressure will mount on these terroir poachers to either use wine from the region indicated (unlikely) or change their labeling (unlikely without a fight).

Here at Box Wines, we don’t think seeing some of the “Hearty Burgundy” and similar labels disappear would be any great loss. In fact, if the plonk disappeared completely it wouldn’t be missed (except, perhaps, by penniless college students and the occasional bargain-seeking party animal. (The main risk we would see is to the reputations of the varietals used in those wines if the labels are changed to a varietal designation.) Virtuall all of the better boxed wine seems to be compliant with accepted geographic designations. A quick scan of the boxes we’ve encountered in the last year shows that almost all use varietal labeling. The Free Range Red Bordeax and Free Range White Bordeaux are exceptions, but they really do originate in the Bordeaux region of France.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I think there will ultimately be restrictions on U.S. winemakers that prevent using geographic labels inappropriately, but there may be either “grandfathering” for existing labels or at least a phaseout period of some years.

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