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Controversy bubbles up over Korbel 'champagne' description for inauguration

Korbel Champagne Cellars

Published: Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 6:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 at 11:56 a.m.

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 Cuvée 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.”

As for the congressional committee, Healy said: “They did not run this release by us, so, well ... But these are people who don't deal with wine on a regular basis, so it was an oversight on their part, and how would they know.”

She said a reprinted menu will describe the wine correctly.

“We're talking about a historic American event and I think that's what people ought to be focusing on,” Healy said.

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