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A French visitor in Napa
The business end

A French visitor in Napa

  • Updated
Paul Franson

Paul Franson

Napa Valley may produce only a small percent of America’s wine, but it has a huge reputation.

That was demonstrated when Matthias Fekl, the French Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Tourism, and Promotion of French Nationals Abroad, visited Napa Valley on June 8 to discuss topics in the field of globalization and free trade.

The trade minister, who had never been to California, stopped here with his staff on his way to Washington, D.C. for talks about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade agreement between the European Union and the U.S.

Fekl initiated the visit to see firsthand who we are, what we are about and what we are fighting for.

At Silverado Vineyards, he met with members of the Napa Valley Vintners including President/CEO Linda Reiff and government relations director Rex Stults plus board members including Susan Boswell of Chateau Boswell Winery, Pat Stotesbery of Ladera Vineyards and Russ Weis, general manager of Silverado Vineyards.

Reiff outlined how Napa Valley has earned the reputation for producing wines of the highest quality, which inspired copycats who exploited the Napa Valley name on bottles of wine that are not from here.

Aside from being unfair to Napa Valley wineries and growers, it’s obviously misleading to consumers.

She outlined Bronco’s misuse of the Napa Valley name as well as parts of the valley like Rutherford, which was finally solved with a state law, as well as Chinese and even European deception.

As a result, the Napa Valley Vintners group spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year just to protect the name from misuse.

This has included initiating geographic indication status from the E.U., the first non-European region to be recognized, and agreements with many other countries.

She also emphasized that the Vintners want us to be fair, too.

She noted that no Napa Valley sparkling wine producers call their wines “California champagne” anymore, though some are grandfathered in and other California producers do.

Interestingly, some California producers who do, like Korbel, Gallo’s Barefoot Bubbly and Constellation Brands’ Cook’s, market their wines in Canada successfully without the false nomenclature.

Reiff admitted that some Napa producers still call their sweet dessert wines “Port” but she says they’re trying to find an alternative and get them to stop that practice.

She also said that it is time for the U.S. government to respect and protect all wine-making place names, whether it is Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley or Chablis, by ending the misuse of these famous geographic names, such as Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Port, etc., perhaps phasing them out over a five- or 10-year period.

The French are also trying to outlaw use of many French terms traditionally used in the wine business such as “chateau” and “clos.” But, of course, English speakers have borrowed French words at least since William of Normandy beat English King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

However, the French representatives noted something few here seemed to know, that some of these terms, like “chateau” have specific meanings, especially in Bordeaux, somewhat like “estate,” or made from owned vines, here.

They did suggest that it might be reasonable to expand the term to wines made from nearby vines or a region, though that’s not likely to satisfy the many wineries with “chateau” in their names and no geographic sense.

After the formal talks, the French and Napa Valley representatives enjoyed an elegant lunch prepared by chef Sarah Scott with Silverado wines on the patio overlooking Napa Valley.

One wine was an excellent 2012 Solo cabernet leading one French official to ask whether Napa wines can age like those in Bordeaux.

This motivated Silverado general manager Russ Weis to pull out a 1997 cabernet. It was refined and elegant, a bit surprising in a hot year when many winemakers made highly extracted high alcohol wines that haven’t aged so well.

Just as the group had agreed not to discuss Donald Trump, however, no one put the French on the spot by asking them how they liked the wines.

Many did have seconds, however.

Pop the cork on Napa Valley wine!

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