Shameless, as in Showtime’s white trash ghetto family that gets by in life by conning other people; America’s marketers apparently have absolutely no idea how egregious their most recent initiative is to wine lovers of the world. This group is attempting to surreptitiously sell US wine in European Union markets labeled with the words Château and Clos, effectively hoodwinking unsuspecting consumers into buying their US wares. How could anyone think this is okay? The fine print of course must disclose that it is a product of the US but most people don’t read the fine print when making a wine purchasing decision. This issue is not about trade between countries, it is about greed and duplicity.
First, a very petit French lesson is needed for context. The literal translation of the French word château means ‘castle’ and the word clos (of course pronounced without the s on the end) means ‘closed’ in English. But forget about those meanings for now and step into the wine world. Here château means that the grapes were grown and bottled by the estate with a very strong reference to Bordeaux, and clos means the grapes came from a vineyard that has a wall built around it, typically associated with the Burgundy region. These words, although they have generic dictionary definitions, represent brands insofar as wine consumers are concerned. They are very celebrated places from which many of the world’s greatest wines are grown and vinified.
For American wineries hoping to enter into Europe using those words on their labels and to eradicate the definitions of them as understood by Europeans for centuries, is only a fraction away from being criminal. I am often confounded by the remarkable lack of scruples found in American business but this really goes over the edge. Not only does this move have no ethical fabric attached, but also it’s down right dishonest and deceitful to represent products improperly to consumers. Does anyone think for a second that if France wanted to use the words ‘Nappa’ or ‘Sonohma’, on their labels that it would be allowed? Some people would realize the words are misspelled but many wouldn’t necessarily catch it and this is essentially what these marketers want to do. Is that fair competition? It is utterly without merit and has no place in the wine industry.
Who are these people wishing to perpetrate such fraud on the public? The trade group (read: lobbyist) WineAmerica is behind this push, which is surprising because this group has in the past actually spearheaded and influenced some very positive changes for the US wine industry. With some 800 members nationwide their mission is ‘to encourage the dynamic growth and development of American wineries and winegrowing through the advancement and advocacy of sound public policy’. Is this a joke? Ripping off consumers and expropriating centuries old and established branding are considered sound public policy? I’m incensed at this group’s arrant lack of respect for consumers, cultures, and even wine itself. Further, do we really need solicit more inimical sentiment from the rest of the world?
Despite my last name being French on both sides of the family, I am an American, born and raised and so were both of my parents, although some of my grandparents were from the old country. This is not about my French heritage but rather it is about what is right and even more, about what is wrong. The very reason we are in such difficult economic times today has everything to do with American businesses severely lacking probity and principled, honorable dealings. Although I can’t imagine the European Union allowing this action, we live in tumultuous, unpredictable times and anything is possible these days. Such avarice as proposed by WineAmerica is untenable and wholly unacceptable.
Photo: Showtime’s partial cast from Shameless – a truly great program with exceptional writing and acting