What’s In A Name? Why is the word ‘Chateau’ so Important?

A row is brewing between France and the USA over the use of the word ‘chateau’ and who is entitled to use it. In France the word ‘chateau’ refers to the origin of the wine.

Chateau in this instance does not mean a building (whether it be a grand French castle, manor, farmhouse or shed) – it refers to the single estate where the grapes are grown. In the USA the word ‘chateau’ does not have the same meaning. The AFP have reported that:

While French chateau bottles find their origins in wines made at the estate from grapes belonging to the chateau, the U.S. definition for export would use less stringent conditions on provenance.

It could include grapes from “vines that have been traditionally used by this wine producer or producer group.”

Bordeaux wine producers have warned that if the European Union decided to authorise their US rivals to use the term ‘chateau’ on bottles sold in Europe this would be tantamount to “cheating consumers”.

Laurent Gapenne of Chateau de Laville and president of the Federation des Grand Vins de Bordeaux has said that “what is at stake is the respect for tradition and quality” and that if the Americans do gain the right to use the word ‘chateau’ then this will mean that “there will not be a level playing field”.

“The Americans could create ‘chateau’ wines from grapes from all over and prices would of course be much lower . . . The consumer would be buying a ‘chateau’ wine with the idea of quality that represents our definition,” while in fact it doesn’t, he argued.”

Georges Haussalter, the president of the Bordeaux winemakers’ council (CIVB), said:

“Chateau for us means a wine produced on a single estate in contrast to the American definition which is very loose.”

You may think that it is old fashioned to champion the right of the French to the word ‘chateau’ and that they shouldn’t be so protective or provincial about it.

However in the eyes of the French the word ‘chateau’ is part of the regulations attached to their labelling laws and wine producers have to ‘qualify’ in order to use it on their labels.

This is why it’s so important. It’s not about who uses the word but it’s about quality.

I am obviously against the EU granting permission for the word ‘chateau’ to be used by the USA – are you?

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