U.S. and EU Reconcile Over Glass of Wine
Thomas Fuller / International Herald Tribune - September 27, 2005
The United States and Europe have been at odds over everything from the war in Iraq to the death penalty, but in one area that has troubled relations on and off for about 200 years – wine – officials on September 15, 2005 announced a modest rapprochement.
Negotiators in Washington came to an initial agreement over their sharpest oenological differences, involving not only what is in the bottle, but what is stuck to it: the label.
Under the compromise, which has taken more than two decades to reach, Europeans will permit U.S. winemakers to use what the European Commission calls 'EU traditional expressions' like château, late bottled vintage, noble, superior, sur lie and vintage character.
American producers from now on will be restricted from using place names like Bordeaux, Chablis, Champagne and Chianti. But in a crucial concession won by Washington, U.S. winemakers who already label their bubbly 'Champagne,' or whose wines already hold certain other regional appellations, will be allowed to keep the label.
That aspect of the deal stung in some European quarters. An official at the European Commission in Brussels said that he was disappointed, but that the European side would try harder in a second round of negotiations that they hope to have later.
"We wanted to go further," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "Perhaps in the second round. You win and you lose."
Like a good claret, the deal was slow in reaching maturity.
"We've been negotiating this thing for 20 years so it was about time that we had an agreement," said Michael Mann, a spokesman for the European Commission. "We're going to clink glasses on this."
Wine was a touchy subject between Europe and the United States long before this dispute began. Sensitivities have lingered since the early 1800s, when vines imported to Europe from the United States brought with them diseases like phylloxera, black rot and powdery mildew, which all but wiped out Europe's vineyards. The vineyards were later saved, ironically, by American rootstock, which still remains.
But the anger over U.S.-imported vine diseases continued well into the 20th century.
Hitler banned American grapes. France in the 1930s also banned some American varieties - including the Clinton, Jacquez (also known as Black Spanish), Noah, Isabelle and Herbemont varieties. They are now technically banned from cultivation by the European Union, officially because of their "foxy" taste, according to a former European agriculture commissioner, Franz Fischler.
The deal announced Thursday also addressed wine-making techniques and certification issues.
The accord would mean that Europe accepts U.S. wine-making practices like special filtration methods and adding wood chips during the aging process to produce an oak flavor, and the addition of up to 7 percent water to wine, practices that are partially banned in the EU.
In exchange, the Bush administration said it would put a bill before Congress to restrict the use of European place names, which also include Burgundy, Claret, Haut-Sauterne, Hock, Madeira, Malaga, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Retsina, Rhine, Sauterne, Sherry and Tokay.
Some observers, though, say Europe will see little benefit from the initial agreement.
"I don't think this will do anything positive for the sale of European wines in the United States," said Jeffrey Davies of Signature Selections, a wine merchant based in Bordeaux, France.
"It could help the Californians, who are the principal U.S. exporters," he said.