Controversy bubbles up over Korbel 'champagne' description for inauguration

  • 9/22/2005: D6: Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville offers a wine and food seminar Saturday with tram tours of the vineyards and crushing facilities, tasting and an opportunity to meet the winemaker.
    PC: Korbel Champagne Cellars, Guerneville, Flavors of Fall event Sept 24, with champagne, wine and food parings, tours of vineyards and crushing facilities. 2005 HO

Left, right, center — in Washington, it pays to keep track. But the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies didn't. That misstep has bubbled into a controversy with a Sonoma County winery at its center.

The placement in a press release of the word "California" to the right of the word "Champagne" — instead of the left — has French Champagne industry lobbyists up in arms.

The Champagne Bureau, the French industry's U.S. lobbying arm, has objected to the committee's announcement that "Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuv? Champagne, California" is to be served with the dessert course of the 2013 Inaugural Luncheon on Jan. 21.

Quelle horreur!

"Champagne only comes from (the region of) Champagne, France," the bureau's director, Sam Heitner told The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress. He vowed to write the committee to set it straight.

"Because at the end of the day, we want everyone to know where their wine comes from," Heitner said.

The Internal Revenue Service tax code permits some American wineries to describe their sparkling wines as champagne only if the word is used after its appellation, or where its grapes originated.

Korbel Champagne Cellars, longtime producers of, well, an alcoholic beverage that evokes joy, is one of those wineries, and has used the word in one way or another to describe its product for 100 years.

"You mean, California champagne," Korbel spokeswoman Margie Healy said quickly when asked Thursday about the kerfuffle involving the winery's top-end champagne, which is to be served at a presidential inauguration for the eighth straight time.

On the label of the specially-produced magnum bottles to be served in Washington, the winery did it right, or, rather, left. The labels read: "Russian River Valley Natural Champagne."

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