Will American Wines Be Able to Use The “Château” Mention?

Vin du Château,
Mis en Bouteille au Château,
Château Lafite Rothschild,
Château Latour,
Château Margaux, etc…

Why do some wine labels mention the term “château”, and what does it mean?

The term “château” is a guaranty that the wine is from the actual domain, and bottled at the property. It also means that the grapes used to make the wine are strictly from their own vineyards, which gives it a unique flavor and identity. The winery guaranties a certain level of quality and authenticity in order to maintain their reputation, and in some cases their grade level.

It is not unusual for smaller surrounding vineyards to adopt the appellation and the brand of the notorious wine, as long as they do not use the term “château”. This practice has been in existence for quite a while and it is somewhat “authorized” locally in the name of wine economics.

The Bordeaux Wine Federation is fighting a new proposal by the European Committee to give American wine producers the right to use the venerated “château” label. This includes wines produced from a blend of grapes from different growers and exported to Europe. The European Committee wants to “sell off” the mention but the Bordeaux Wine Federation is quite against the idea, for obvious reasons… and who can blame them? They might as well own the term! “Château” is a traditional mention in the Gironde region of France, and it became emblematic to the Bordeaux wine production.

The “château” label designates an “Appellation d’Origine Controllée” (AOC), or controlled designation of origin, where 100% of the grapes are harvested on a specific and unique patch of land, and vinified at the property, or château. The Bordeaux Wine Federation is concerned that the term might be fraudulently used by some winemakers, making the competition unfair, and creating quite a distortion of authenticity for those who are really playing by the rules, as well as the consumers. Bernard Farges, president of the AOC association is strongly opposed to this deal and made his position quite clear during a recent press release: “American wines, some of them comprised of different grapes grown on different plots, should not be given this title, because it diminishes the importance of the term in the mind of the French consumer. Such grant will create an enormous precedent for other terms related to viticulture exploitation, such as: domaine, hospices, clos, grand cru, premier cru.”

The French agriculture minister is scheduled to travel to Brussels to veto the new proposal. The European Commission intends to lighten the debate and come up with a fair decision. The deal is far from being done and there hasn’t been a vote on the subject yet. The question will be raised during a meeting happening Sept. 25th, organized by the European Agricultural Economic Committee.

What do you know! There’s drama in wine land, too.

 

Related story: No “Château” For American Winemakers

10 Comments

  1. Dirk

    Great article. Curious to see what will happen.

    I vote ‘no’ on the Chateau label dilution because we all know what will happen, it cannot be policed and self regulation – although many California vintners are real serious about their ‘metier’ regulation – will fall down the waste site. In an environment of heavy competition in the end no one will want to contribute to the cost of the enforcement of the rules. So rather avoid the problem and instead of ‘chateau’, which unnecessarily confuses the issue, California can use the word ‘estate’ like it does now. We have no chateaux here in the first place.

    Let’s be original Californians about California wine making and not feel so eager to adapt to (or shall I say immitate the french) by highjacking their standards inherent to the French wine culture. Why? To make another buck. I am not buying it.

  2. Val

    Style, hyper intéressant ton article et même pas au courant en France … Un château c’est d’abord un château, alors je suis d’accord avec le 1er commentaire … et ton allusion à Disneyland … LOL!!!

  3. Rick

    Some American wineries already use the chateau name on their label and have been doing so for some time.
    Will they be forced to legally change the name of their long standing wine labels??? Will a legal battle ensue?
    Food for thought.

  4. Chateau St. Jean, Chateau Montelena, Chateau Julien…
    Several high-end wineries have been using the “château” or “clos” designations for their wines. They were able to export such wines under the 3 year trans-Atlantic wine pact that took place in 2006. Though that deal was over in 2009, most of those wineries are still using the term “château” on their labels, probably taking advantage of some other wine rule we may not be aware of.

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