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California Wine Seized in Belgium

Customs authorities destroy 3,200 bottles labeled "Champagne"

by Jane Firstenfeld
California Wine Seized in Belgium
A still from the video shows destruction of the bottles.
Anvers, Belgium -- Belgian customs authorities seized and destroyed a shipment of more than 3,200 bottles of André sparkling wine on Jan. 8. The wines, produced by E. & J. Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif., bore labels referring to "California Champagne" and "André Champagne Cellars," direct violations of EU laws that prohibit the use of "Champagne" on wines produced outside of France's Champagne region. A statement released by E. & J. Gallo today said the shipment had been sent by a third party.

According to a statement issued by the Office of Champagne, USA, "Any U.S. product that misuses the Champagne name and seeks to enter an export market that protects consumers from misleading labels is considered counterfeit. To avoid greater legal liabilities and legal procedures, the owner of the merchandise agreed to abandon it for immediate destruction." The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) today held a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, and released a video of the wine's destruction (

California Wine Seized in Belgium
CIVC emphasized the "serious legal and economic implications for those who violate EU and international laws." CIVC representative and Champagne producer Bruno Paillard said, "Since the passage and implementation of more rigorous legislation, customs agents and border patrols throughout Europe have seized and destroyed over 14,000 bottles in the last four years illegally bearing the Champagne name."

Paillard later told Wines & Vines that, although CIVC did not confiscate the wine, and that he was uncertain who had exported it, "What I can tell you is that the producers of this wine are perfectly aware of what the laws are. I deeply regret that in America, it is legal to use our name." When asked if the wine, which is legally sold in the U.S., could not have been returned to its shipper, Paillard replied, "This wine was of so low a value that the producers decided to abandon it, a good illustration of the value of that wine….Don't you think it was a provocation just to send it?"

A statement issued by Susan Hensley, vice president of public relations for E. & J. Gallo, denied that the company had exported the wine or been involved with the decision to destroy the shipment.

"E. & J. Gallo Winery respects and adheres to EU regulations and does not sell product labeled California Champagne in the EU," Hensley stated. "News released by the Office of Champagne USA misleads consumers by suggesting E. & J. Gallo Winery ignored regulations and intended to make counterfeit product available to European consumers.

"The owner of the merchandise was in fact a third party based in the United States who sells product to cruise ships. This third party shipped the product to Belgium, and once they were informed of the problem, they agreed to abandon the product for immediate destruction.

"As a leader in the wine industry that does business in more than 80 countries around the world, we value our relationship with the EU, and respect our fellow wine producers in Europe."

Paillard explained that the banned wine had arrived in a mixed shipping container, and was concealed under other, legally imported wines. "There was probably an attempt to hide something," he said. "The fact is that it was discovered--an illegal product--and was destroyed."

Paillard emphasized that the seizure and subsequent publicity in no way demonstrated anti-American sentiment. "As a wine producer, I am a bit sad, to tell the truth, that such an extreme solution had to be found."

Champagne, along with 12 other wine producing regions around the world, is a signator of the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin ( Seven U.S. regions have also joined the effort: Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Oregon, Walla Walla, Willamette and Washington state, and last year, Napa Valley became the first U.S. region to be granted Geographic Indication status by the EU.

According to Sharon Castillo at the Office of Champagne USA, another round of negotiations over the issue in Washington, D.C., next week. For more information, visit
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