Tag Archives: Champagne Jayne

Is it time to end the Champagne boycott?

Champagne boycottThe Wine Curmudgeon has boycotted Champagne for almost two years to support Champagne Jayne Powell, the Australian wine writer who was sued by the bully boys at the Champagne trade group, CIVC, for no reason that any reasonable person would understand. Powell mostly won the suit, which accused her of trespassing on the Champagne trade name, but only after spending A$75,000 (about US$55,000) in legal expenses she will never see again.

Powell, who was under a gag order during the suit, gave one of her first interviews a couple of weeks ago, and she didn’t mince words. “I refused to give in to the CIVC; I have a strong sense of fairness: I would not succumb to such outrageous behaviour,” she told the British trade magazine thedrinksbusiness.

Sadly, almost no one else thought it was outrageous behavior. Too many wine writers ignored what was happening, and people even made fun of me for the boycott. Which wasn’t the worst part, of course. I wasn’t the one being sued, and I didn’t have to pay attorneys and lose business while I fought against a trade group whose members are worth billions. And I didn’t wait in vain for my colleagues to support me and denounce the CIVC.

Hence I am hesitant to end my Champagne boycott. The lawsuit was despicable, and I don’t want to reward the CIVC for trying to deny Powell one of the most basic of human rights, free speech. And yes, I understand that my almost solitary act of defiance made almost no difference, and that the CIVC probably doesn’t even know I did it. But it was still the right thing to do.

That’s the tough part about being one of the good guys. You have to do things even when you know that what you do probably won’t matter. In the end, how we act should not be about money or currying favor or getting free samples, but right and wrong – even if you’re a wine writer.

So consider the Champagne boycott still in force. I’ll taste it when I have to, probably for my El Centro class, and if I run across something that seems worthwhile, I’ll consider writing about it. But the idea of spending my time or money to help a group that did what the CIVC did to Powell remains as repugnant today as it was a couple of years ago.

Winebits 440: Champagne Jayne, distributor scandal, vineyard prices

Champagne Jayne

Champagne Jayne Powell

Kafakaesque, even: Not my phrase, but one used by the thedrinksbusiness website to describe Champagne Jayne Powell’s legal nightmare with the Champagne trade association, which sued her to stop her from using the word Champagne in her business name. The Wine Curmudgeon’s feelings about this are well known, and I haven’t tasted or reviewed Champagne since the suit was filed some two years ago. Powell, too, is bitter. Even worse, reported thedrinksbusiness: “She still has good relations with Champagne producers; she says many told her they disagreed with the CIVC’s legal action against her but they could not publicly speak out or were too scared to go against it because CIVC promotes and protects their product globally.” That’s always best business practices – let a trade group bully its members into submission.

Crossing state lines: Three employees of the second-biggest distributor in the country have been indicted on federal fraud charges, accused of sending wine illegally to New York from Maryland, where the state liquor tax is one-fifth less than it is in New York. The Republic National Distribution Co. employees allegedly used retailers in Maryland to help them sell the wine to New York stores, so the latter could avoid paying the higher New York taxes. Republic officials denied any wrongdoing, and said they would be vindicated trial. So much – if the charges are true – that the three-tier system helps prevent this kind of liquor fraud. It’s also worth noting that this is not a common practice, but it’s not unusual, either, and especially in parts of the country where higher-tax states are near lower-tax ones.

How high can high go? The Wine Curmudgeon is not the only one who marvels at how Napa land prices defy economics: “The wine grape vineyard market continues to operate in a universe of its own,” says a report detailing record land prices for Napa vineyards, up almost 15 percent from 2014 to 2015. It now takes $310,000 to buy an acre of Napa land, and given that Napa is “planted out” – no more room for new vineyard land – that price will almost certainly continue to grow.

Winebits 421: Champagne, wine reviews, local wine

Champagne ? Get the lawyers: The indomitable Alice Feiring has no patience with wine that is not the way it should be, even if it’s Champagne: “I could not sip without tasting the scorched earth viticulture that still exists in Champagne. This was all sulfur and sugar and bubble. It was cynical. It was false. It was a traitor.” The bottle in question is from Trader Joe’s, Charles de Marques, and while I applaud and appreciate the honesty of her review, I would advise Feiring to get a good attorney. Because we know what the Champagne people do when someone does something that they don’t like. Right, Champagne Jayne?

? How legitimate is that review? Cornell researchers have developed a system that spots phony Internet hotel reviews called Review Skeptic, so the Wine Curmudgeon immediately tried it on a variety of Winestream Media wine reviews. Most were identified as real, which speaks to the quality of the algorithm, since it’s not meant to do wine reviews (and, unfortunately, doesn’t judge the quality of the writing). Given the possibility we could get computer-generated wine reviews sooner rather than later, Review Skeptic — even in its current form — could come in quite handy.

? Make it local: The annual National Restaurant Association’s chef’s survey has again identified local as the hottest trend for 2016 behind the restaurant bar. This marks at least the eighth year in a row that chefs see local wine as important, which makes the Wine Curmudgeon quite happy. Now, if we could only get Dallas chefs to understand why their colleagues feel that way, I would have one less thing to bellyache about.

The Hosemaster of Wine, Riedel, and the new censorship

Hosemaster of Wine Riedel

Aug. 10, 2015 update: Riedel and the publisher of the British wine website that ran Washam’s post have come to a compromise, reports the drinks business trade magazine. No details were announced, but the publisher, Tim Atkin, and Riedel announced “the matter was settled.” The report also includes a ringing endorsement of free speech by Georg Riedel: “I am a true advocate of free speech and that is something I would never try to suppress.” I assume this was not sarcasm given the nature of the dispute.

Earlier this year, the Champagne trade group sued the Australian wine writer Champagne Jayne because the trade group said she wasn’t entitled to use the word Champagne. The wine business, and especially my writing colleagues, could have cared less. Maybe it was because it was in Australia. Maybe it was because they didn’t understand the danger. Or maybe they just didn’t care, because they were too busy doing business with the wine business.

This week, though, they should be paying attention. That’s when attorneys for Riedel, the wine glass company, sent a cease and desist letter to Ron Washam, who writes the Hosemaster of Wine blog. Washam, a former sommelier, writes wine-based satire that makes my rants look like a Sunday school Bible class. A recent target was Riedel, in which he called its glasses a fraud and its patriarch, Georg Riedel, a sexist flim flam man. The lawyer letter, claiming the piece wasn’t satire, that Washam had defamed Riedel, and that a retraction was required, quickly followed.

That Riedel would threaten to sue over something so silly speaks to how the wine business thinks it can control what goes on as wine writing leaves the print world. If Eric Asimov had written this in the New York Times, Riedel, company and man, would have blustered and foamed and forgotten about it. They certainly weren’t going to sue the Times, which actually has a landmark libel case named after it.

But Washam? He, like Champagne Jayne, is a different story. Asimov and most print writers are seen as separate and distinct by the wine business, because it understands print and it knows better than to mess with it. That’s not the case with Washam and those of us who aren’t print. We’re considered part of the wine business, and I get reminded of this every day. We who write about wine on the Internet don’t exist for consumers; we exist to sell product, and we’d better damn not forget it. Otherwise, lawyers send letters.

That Washam, Champagne Jayne, and everyone else who writes about wine are part of the media and deserve the same protections as “real” journalists is inconceivable to the wine business. Much of this is our own fault, given how so many of us are happy and fat shilling for wine companies. The last thing these wine writers want is to be tarred with the journalist brush and to be forced to offer honest evaluations about the products they tout. But that doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility to their readers or to their consciences.

I wrote this in February, and I’ll write it again. Big Business, under the guise of intellectual property law, sees an opportunity to silence its critics and censor what is written about its products. The first step in stopping this from continuing in wine is for everyone — from the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate on down — to denounce the practice and to refuse to be part of it. Otherwise, the lawyers will send more letters, and eventually we’ll end up with wine writing where all the wines get 92 points and where we’re told we need to buy every wine accessory that’s advertised.

That will be a lot of fun, won’t it?

Champagne Jayne and the new censorship

Champagne JayneOct. 21, 2015 update: An Australian judge has ruled that Champagne Jayne Powell can keep her name, ruling that the French Champagne trade group “did not do enough to compel him to order Powell to cancel her business name or withdraw her trademark.” It’s not a complete victory, though. The judge also said that Powell had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in her “use, reference to, and promotion of sparkling wines while also using the Champagne name in relation to some of her social media posts,” and that part of the case will continue. She could still be forced to pay damages or make some other restitution.

Censorship used to be easy to understand. The secret police came to the door in the dark of night and you were never heard from again. Which is what makes the Champagne Jayne case so terrifying — the secret police have been replaced by lawyers working within the legal system of a Western constitutional democracy, and what they’re doing is as legal as it is morally reprehensible.

The French Champagne trade group, CIVC, is suing Jayne Powell, an Australian wine writer whose specialty is Champagne and sparkling wine and who calls herself Champagne Jayne. The trade group claims that Powell’s name, because she writes and teaches about other sparkling wine, violates the European Union ?s trade agreement with Australia that defines what can be called Champagne. CIVC wants an Australian court to make Powell stop using the name and anything associated with it, like email addresses, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and domain names. In this, they would force her out of business.

And, in a touch I love, Powell would have to “destroy all material marked with the name ?Champagne Jayne ?, including brochures, pamphlets, and other goods.” In other words, burning books.

This must seem bizarre to Americans, given our right to free speech under the First Amendment. But it shouldn’t. Even though Australia’s free speech protections aren’t as strong as those here, this case is not about free speech as we understand it. It’s about intellectual property, and how post-modern business is using that concept to carve out an exception to our traditional free speech protections. First Amendment law in the U.S. focuses on preventing the government from censoring speech, but says little about groups that aren’t the government from doing it.

Case in point: The Cristal-Cristalino lawsuit, in which the luxury French Champagne won a judgment against the cheap Spanish cava and forced Cristalino to change its name. The federal judge who decided in favor of Cristal said the case seemed silly on the surface, but that she had to go by the law, and the law said any confusion about the name, no matter how small, must be decided in Cristal’s favor. Shortly thereafter, I got a letter from Cristalino telling me I had to obey the judgment by never referring to Cristalino as Cristalino and by replacing any reference to the old name on the blog.

In other words, I am being censored by a French wine company, regardless of the First Amendment.

This is why I have written this post, contributed to Powell’s defense fund, and urge everyone to join me in boycotting Champagne. Powell can’t speak for herself — she is under a court-mandated gag order. And if the CIVC gets away with this, and it seems like it will, then it sets a precedent for any business that doesn’t approve of what someone writes, wine or otherwise. Don’t like what I say about your wine? Then sue, claiming I used your brand name incorrectly. Don’t like what the New York Times’ Mark Bittman says about your fast food? Then sue, claiming Bittman infringed on your intellectual property. (Which is my hint to the Times — this affects all of us who practice journalism, just like Times v. Sullivan.)

Also depressing: The lack of outrage from the Winestream Media, few of whom have come to Powell’s defense. In one respect, this isn’t surprising, given that its business model is based on sucking up to the wine business. But one would think that someone would remember Martin Niemoller.