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French Appellation Plans Law Suit Against U.S. Producer

Hermitage's best-known landmark, La Chapelle
© Christophe Grilhe | Hermitage's best-known landmark, La Chapelle
Fresh tension over use of French names.

Wine producers in the northern Rhône appellation of Hermitage have announced that they intend to take legal action over the misuse of their village's name, which they claim has been abused by a sparkling wine producer in California.

Ironically, the producer of sparkling "L'Ermitage” in California is French Champagne house Louis Roederer. But Marc Ouvriié, the spokesman for the Hermitage appellation, explained that Roederer was flouting appellation rules.

“With or without the 'H,' Hermitage is not sparkling,” said Ouvrié. Rather, the French appellation produces exclusively still wines (its reds rank among the world's most prestigious). 

A bilateral agreement between France and the United States in March 2006 allowed sparkling wines made in the state of California to use the term Champagne if it had been in production before December 2005. However, the agreement did not include sparkling wines referring to other appellations.

“Hermitage did not feature within the framework of this agreement,” said Ouvrié. “But since our appellation is protected at the European level by appellation laws, we are witnessing a fresh outbreak of name theft.”

The association also pointed to Barack Obama's inauguration luncheon earlier this month, where the words “Special Inauguration Cuvée Champagne, California” used on the menu annoyed the Champenois. It was later corrected to read "California Champagne," which is the legitimate wording.

The Hermitage appellation's representative body confirmed that their recourse to legal proceedings would show “solidarity” with their “Champenois friends.”

Hermitage is not the only Rhône region flexing its muscles. Côte Rotie producers are also taking legal action to prevent the use of their appellation's name in China.

In 1990, Australian producer Penfolds was forced to change the name of its most famous wine, which was previously called Penfolds Grange Hermitage. The move followed formal complaints from the European Union about the use of recognized French geographical names.


Related story:

Obama Inauguration Irks Champagne Producers



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