Appellations of origin.

During one of my peregrinations, I came across an article titled, “ Faking Success”. It stated among other things: “ Counterfeit goods are raking up huge profits for criminals, while costing reputable manufacturers billions in sales. Both threaten American jobs and consumer safety.”

The author presented in a brilliant way what he claimed to be frauds, yet nearly indistinguishable from their legitimate, original counterparts. In many countries, manufacturers, breweries, and wineries, have been doing this for decades, but now the practice has taken epidemic proportions. Take for example, the Budweiser case. It is the original beer of the town Budvar in the Czech Republic and enjoyed a worldwide reputation for quality, consistency and superior taste. The name was not “ trade marked “ and when Anheuser-Bush, the then  largest brewery organization in they world decided to market it as Budweiser, nothing could be done.

Ultimately, – through relentless marketing, the brand has become one of the most popular beer brands in the U S A.

Champagne is another case, as is Chablis, Port, Sherry and ice wine (eiswein).

Champagne originated in that region of France and no other country or region can produce it legally, as is  the case with Chablis, another famous region in France, Douro Valley in Portugal comes from the grapes grown in that valley and authentic Sherry wines originate in the region called Jerez de la Frontera in the south-western corner of Spain. Canadian wineries know all the financial repercussions caused through imitation icewines (trademarked Canadian spelling) on unsuspecting consumers in Pacific Rim countries.

Unfortunately there is no international commercial fraud police to pursue such cases, and courts have been reluctant to judge, even if they did, only very few governments seem to be willing to enforce judgements of this nature. For agricultural products governments have been particularly reluctant to enact laws prohibiting the production of “knock offs”. Take the case of Emmental cheese, Parmiggiano-reggiano, Gruyere, Cheddar, and the list can go on. Clearly no manufacturer of Emmental can duplicate the quality of milk produced in the Emmen Valley in Switzerland, therefore by extension authentic Emmental can only come from the eponymous valley.

The same is true for Burgundy wine, which American wineries have been imitating for many decades at the expense of Burgundy shippers.

Export-dependent countries and regions have been fighting a losing battle because the U. S. A and to some extent Canada have been looking the other way when it comes to “ imitation “ products. The situation can change, however, if and when the EU becomes politically powerful enough to fight such cases. No European Union country is allowed to produce Port wine except Portugal, Sherry except Spain, Champagne except the Champagne region wineries using grapes grown in the well-defined area, and Parmiggiano except the region entitled to produce it.


The nature and spirit of a nation, its cultural development and its products remain unique, the natural outcome of the interaction between the earth and its people. Thus, France made the French what they are and, in turn its people created France.

Today’s American is the product of America, just as present-day America is what its people have made it. The famous wines and cheeses of Burgundy came into being through the region and its people, their culture and their products. Similarly, the combination of a specific environment or “ milieu “ and a people give rise to such wines as those of the Rhone and Rhine Valleys, of the Piedmont and Rioja, the Cape and the Douro, which in turn, made the reputation of those regions.

If the individuality and specific character of man is rooted so deeply in his own soil and surroundings, why should the world’s great wines be denied this right? Why do we tend to appropriate illegally that which can never rightfully be ours? Is it because imitation is flattery? Is it out of envy? Or is it purely for short-term financial gain? As far back as one can go in history, reference is made to wines with the names of their place of origin. Already half a century before the birth of Christ, for example, Anthony and Cleopatra took pleasure in the wines of Antlya, a small town in the Nile Delta.

An entry found in the Sgarah Pyramid of Pepe II, fourth king of the V the dynasty, who reigned in Memphis thirty to thirty-five centuries before Christ, inform us of the king’s menu;

“ breads, cakes, onion, ten sorts of meat, five sorts of poultry, and to drink, two types of milk, four different beers, a liqueur of fermented figs, and four sorts of white and red wines .”

According to another inscription, “ the king was a master at all meals and his water was wine”. There were five wines, of which three were linked to their origin:

Wine of the Delta region

Wine of Peluse (Abaces in Egyptian)

Wine of Letopolis (Sokhmite in Egyptian)

The three wines that have special reference to origin (already sixty centuries before our time) are made noteworthy by their special characteristics (specific appellations of origin, as opposed to wine types).

The reasons for the differences in the wines can be found in the nature of the soil in which the vines grew. Greek history also offers examples of wines bearing the name of specific vineyard or area of origin, which distinguished them from others. There are numerous references of the wines of Pilos, Samos and Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus, in the writings of Minoan and Aegean times.

The most famous wines, to which reference is made in Greco-Roman literature, were always the product of dry areas where the vine had to struggle to survive. Ismaros ( Mazonian wines ) was famous for the nectar which ensured the safety of Ulysses, while according to the Roam physicist Plinius, Chios and Thasos where the regions whence the Latin world obtained the better part of their quality cultivars. In the Bible too, references are to be found on the valuable quality of wine associated with the concept of slopes.

More than twenty centuries after the Greeks, in 1396, Philip the Bold, Grand Duke of Burgundy, gave proof of a knowledgeable interest in viticulture when he ordered that all the Gamay vines in the area around Dijon, Beaune, Chalon should be uprooted, because the vulgar cultivar which produces a lot has no flavour.

In 1930, the Civil Court of Dijon confirmed Philip’s ruling, adding, however, that Gamay produces fine grapes in the Beaujolais region further south..

History shows us that attempts at fraud and imitation have occurred regularly, together with plagiarism. For example, Roger Dion reports that in 1475, a dealer from Tournus, a village approximately 75 Kms. South of Beaune, was convicted on charges of taking some sixty vats of wine from Tournus vineyard to Pommard, having hops put on the vats in the manner of Beaune, and falsely marketing the wine as Beaune wine. This could, under no, circumstances be regarded as Beaune wine, it was blatant fraud.

Attempts to falsely use the name (partly, totally or slightly changed) of Lacrima Christi, from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, or the Barolo, gave rise to numerous

lawsuits , as was the case with Jerez de la Frontera and Oporto, the latter already being a protected denomination in 1701, well before the appellation controlee laws of France were drafted.


Ever since earliest times, it has been a tradition in the western world to link the geographical name of the production area to wine, as to various other agricultural and related products i.e. high quality hand-woven carpets from Shiraz, Keshan, sturdy trousers from the city of Nimes, Muscat grapes from Alexandria, saffron from Aquila etc.

The so-called “ guild trademarks “ and the trademark of local products in the past, usually corresponded to an appellation of origin. With the disappearance of the guilds, the protection of appellations of origin became a must. This holds especially true today, when the names of the world’s greatest wines have become an all too attractive target for abuse.

The best definition of the requirements to be fulfilled to quality for an appellation of origin was established at the International Wine Congress in 1937. It followed the signing of the Paris Convention (1883) and the Madrid Agreement (1891), and preceded the Lisbon Convention (1958).

“ A wine or wine spirit can only bear an appellation of origin if that name has been confirmed through centuries-long use and tradition and the product has acquired a definite reputation. The reputation must go hand in hand with specific characteristics, which represent quality.

The factors, which determine the product’s specific characteristics and which lend their unique character to a wine, are twofold:

Natural factors, including climate, type of soil, aspect of the vineyard, and cultivar play the most important role and make it possible to establish the limits of a production area that cannot be duplicated.

Factors such as special cultivation and winemaking techniques or distilling processes, which are bound to the historical and geographical traditions thus play a greater or lesser role in the end product.

No product of the vineyard can thus enjoy the benefits particular to a specific appellation of origin, unless it is at least the product of the specified production are and well defined, recognized cultivars. “

The historical appellation of origin ( appellation d’origine controlee et historique ) is subject to specific standards divided into five categories:

Production region


Enrichment and winemaking techniques

Alcohol content

Restricted production per surface area often measured in hectolitres per hectare or tonnes of fruit per acre or gallons per acre.


History is rich in examples of the age-old custom of naming products after the place where they were produced or harvested. It is clear that the “ trademarks” of manufacturers, craftsmen and guilds have for a long time been identified with the original product and region. The following factors greatly contributed to the creation and evolution of such “ trademarks “ of products

People moved around relatively little and often worked in the same family business for generations

Guilds usually had their headquarters in a given region

The raw material required were generally readily available in the immediate vicinity

As a rule these trademarks were the communal property of all the manufacturers of a given product in a specific village or region, i. e. A type of “ collective trademark linked to origin”. This collective trademark was thus synonymus with what is known as name of origin. Already before Christ, the wines produced on the island of Rhodes and exported bore an “ appellation controlee “ stamp and seal! During the 19th century, but particularly since the beginning of the 20th century, numerous rules and regulation have come into effect to ensure greater fairness in trade relations, where the principle of origin is involved. These rules and regulation were often loosely defined and disjointed, but had, above all, a dual purpose:

The protection of the consumer, i. e. a guarantee of authenticity in particular, but also of quality

The protection of the producer, who must adhere to strict rules and regulations

As far as the wine trade is concerned, these two rules should still dictate the commercial pattern, even though it may not always be in the short-term financial interest of those producers and dealers, who have recently started production


According to international legal terminology, “ appellation of origin “ is derived from the name of a region or a specific, well-defined district. This is not to be confused with the more general “ indication of provenance “. The name or origin is used for a product, which came into being in a specific place, clearly referring to the “ source “ of production. The characteristics of quality and the character of the product are completely, or partly, the result of the environment, including all natural and human factors. To narrow down the definition, one can say that wines of origin are “ typical “ wines, whereas wines with an indication of provenance ( mostly linked to a commercial trademark ) are “ typified “ wines.

With the historical development of the traditional wine-producing countries, as well as the existing international wine-producing countries, as well as the existing international terminology as a base, two definitions were formulated, establishing the matter beyond all doubt and eliminating misunderstandings.

WINE OF ORIGIN : “ De jure “ and “ de facto “ quality wines specifically geographically bound ( soil, location etc ) the result of well-defined techniques of production ( cultivars). Traditional cultivation methods and winemaking ) with their own character and distinct characteristics. These should go together with organoleptic quality, strict control measures and limited production per surface area, as well as autocontrol and continous self-examination and critism by the producer.

Wine of provenance  : Broad, generally loosely defined geographic origin, without necessarily any real control measuring production quantities. Wines with an indication of provenance can be of high quality, but not necessarily, and do not always have to be guaranteed by an official authority as such.

In any case, a wine can only be considered representative of a “ production area “, if it:

Always comes from a well-delimited area

Grows in soil, which is eminently suited to the vine, and is the product of one ore more chosen cultivars, grown according to techniques accepted and defined by tradition and law;

Is prepared according to the traditional methods of the region and is handled, stored and aged under circumstances favourable to the full development of its quality

The concept of denomination or “ appellation of origin “ must thus clearly be differentiated from the simple indication of provenance and the modern trademark related names. This is not synonymus with the generic name (e.g. Parma-type ham, Roquefort-type cheese, Burgundy-type wine, etc ) nor is it linked to political barriers or economic considerations, as in the case of the “ frontier customs “ concept of origin.

The appellation of origin is linked to the environmental, geophysical and cultural borders, but can naturally also be of a very general geographical nature  ( e.g wines of the Veneto, Cretan wines etc ) . In very exceptional cases, it can occur that a name, which is used quite specifically on a local basis, also refers to the origin of the product; whether it be imaginary and linked to age-old traditions, such as retsina and sangria, or referring to a colour, such as “ oeil-de-perdrix” (partridge eye), of the type of the vine.

A wine can, only boast a given appellation of origin, if such an appellation has been established through long use and renown. Such renown must also the result of quality characteristics determined by natural and human factors.

A decade ago, a sound knowledge of the issues of origin, quality and pricing were very much a reserved area of the well-informed consumer. Today anyone with a computer, Internet connection and some knowledge of manipulating both can access information that was unimaginable only a few years ago. The trade literature is brimming with specific information. Today the American winemaker is drawn into the issues of world wine production and trade. This requires a more solid knowledge of the historical evolution and the acceptable rules of production standards, labelling, quality evaluations, pricing and truth of information. The more the consumers understand the perspective and philosophical approach that Europeans and others have to the basic international rules of conduct, the more mutual respect will exist and the more effective the chances of friendly discussion, as well as bargaining will be.

The problems of O I V (Vine and Wine Office) are proof that there is a wide gap between European and American, in fact in general new world wine producing countries, with regard to tradition, grape varieties, philosophies, taste and chemical manipulation of wines. To a French winemaker of integrity any intrusion of the evolving wine is anathema. The American winemaker likes to tinker around with the wine and believes to influence the taste for the better. Both are philosophies that enter into the realm of natural versus manufacturing. American consumers in general, the American wine enthusiast in particular, knows the difference between French-produced Burgundy, and a Burgundy-type wine produced in the USA or elsewhere.

It is, therefore, no longer necessary to try and create in the mind of the consumer the impression that a wine is French, Italian or German by fancifully labelling the bottle with exotica and giving a foreign sounding name.

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