French wine lobby bristles at California 'Champagne' for Obama's inauguration

The French wine lobby is upset about the menu for Obama's inauguration and is penning a letter to the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), The Hill has learned. 

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At issue is the menu's dessert course, which will be accompanied by “Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California,” according to a press release from the inauguration committee. That description violates U.S. law, according to Sam Heitner, the director of the Champagne Bureau, a Washington lobby.

The inauguration committee however says the wine itself is labeled in accordance with U.S. law and will be correctly identified on the menu.

"The Champagne Lobby should have a glass of their own product and relax," said Matt House, spokesman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. "We are proud to be serving American Champagne at the Inauguration, and its location of origin will be appropriately displayed on the label and the menu in accordance with the law, and international treaties.”

Most countries ban the use of the name “Champagne” to describe sparkling wines that are not from the Champagne region of France. American law is less stringent, banning the term for newer sparkling wines but preserving it for wines produced prior to 2006 — but only if their origin is spelled out in their name.

“U.S. law clearly states that the full name of the wine label must include where it comes from,” Heitner said. “Under the law, the label for this wine would state 'California Champagne.' While we do not support this practice, it is U.S. law and 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. Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.”


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Heitner said his aim isn't to denigrate American products, but to ensure that U.S. consumers aren't misled.

“We will write a letter to the inaugural committee and Sen. Schumer today,” Heitner told The Hill. “Because at the end of the day, we want everyone to know where their wine comes from.”

The tiff comes as the United States and France are already fighting over a U.S. bid to sell wines bearing the term “chateau” in Europe.

Heitner's concerns were first reported by the Agence France-Presse wire service.

— This report was originally published at 1:03 p.m. and last updated at 4 p.m. with comment from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies