Jerez, 12 March 2018. The specific commercial agreement on wine, signed by the European Union and the United States more than ten years ago now, was meant to be an important advance in legislative harmonisation between the two largest economic areas of the world in wine commerce. However, Europe paid a very high price for accepting the continuation of the rights of those American producers who – at the date of the signing of the Wine Accord on 1 March 2016 – had registered labels with names like Chablis, Port, Champagne or Sherry. Although since then no new label can be registered which includes any of the aforementioned names, the nature of “semi-generic” terms which American legislation gives to 16 particular names (those, precisely, of the most prestigious European indications of origin) means that in practice that Denominations like Sherry, Champagne, Port or Bordeaux have to coexist in the North American market with local imitations which make improper use of the respective Denominations of Origin. These are very poor in terms of price and quality when compared to that of the original wines; and that only makes the situation worse, since to many American consumers without much knowledge, the term “Sherry” implies poor quality products which are used in cooking. So the exporters of genuine Sherry have to explain firstly what is not Sherry, and then explain what Sherry really is.
With the purpose of changing this unjust situation, and in face of the difficulties of bilateral negotiation, some years ago the most historic European Denominations, with Sherry, Champagne and Port leading the way, established a coalition in which room was allowed from the start for the most prestigious American wine regions, such as the Napa Valley in California. The idea was to show that the European model of Denominations of Origin was also of interest to the American wine industry and of course to American consumers so that the name of a wine’s origin should be respected. Since that first “Declaration for the Protection of Names of Origin” signed in Napa (California) in 2005, 23 regions have joined up from Europe (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti Classico, Rioja, Tokaj and Chablis), Canada, Australia, and more importantly still, some 10 regions in the United States like Oregon, Long Island and Sonoma.
The main consequence of this alliance has been an important breach in the hitherto monolithic structure of the American wine industry dominated by corporations like Constellation, Gallo or Korbel grouped together in the Californian Wine Institute, and which are the principal usurpers of the Denominations like Port, Sherry and Champagne. Now, American legislators not only have to listen to these large corporations, but also to those producers who, in ever increasing numbers, believe that the names of the origin of wines should be protected both within and without the American borders.
The coalition has been developing its activities centred on two cities. On Monday 5th March, on the occasion of the important wine fair Vinexpo in New York, a press conference took place attended by more than sixty representatives of the media, both specialised and general. During this event the results were presented of a survey of the whole country conducted by GBA Strategies which clearly demonstrates that 94% of American wine consumers support legislative reform which would lead to better protection of mentions of origin by which the labelling leaves no room for error as to the genuine origin of the wine. After the press conference a tasting of wines from members of the alliance was held, among which were four Sherries of various types presented by the Director General of the Consejo Regulador.
The agenda in Washington consisted entirely of meetings with representatives of the American legislators and the federal administration. The Wine Origins delegation held meetings with a large number of senators and congressmen hoping to persuade them to support protection of the Denominations of Origin, both American and European. Support was sought and considerable support was received, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, for a resolution presented by the Congressman for Oregon, Earl Blumenauer, which stressed the value of the American system of AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), equivalent to our Denominations of Origin. After marathon sessions with members of the chambers (15 meetings with as many politicians) and with the relevant media such as the New York Times and Politico, the delegation also held an important meeting with high ranking people from the US Trade Representative, the American agency for international trade.
The day was brought to a close with another tasting of wine from alliance members in the emblematic Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill. Over three hundred people, from the legislative chambers, the American administration and European diplomats in Washington attended, and here Sherry made another welcome appearance.
15 March 2018