Recently, I read an interesting article discussing the use of the term ‘Grand Cru’ by a United States winemaker. (See Much Ado About a Wine Marketing Designation.) The story reflects the use of the term ‘Grand Cru’ by Sea Smoke Cellars of Santa Barbara, California. After receiving a review in 2008 from Wine Spectator writer James Laube that dubbed the winery as one of the “grand cru” properties in Santa Barbara, the winery used the term ‘Grand Cru’ on ” all of its 2009 releases.” (Id.) ‘Grand Cru’ is a term used by French wine producers and “is a rating for established vineyards, and is highly regulated as part of French wine law. The term is most closely associated with Burgundy, where it may be used on a few dozen highly regarded, high-quality vineyard parcels.” (Id.) In order to receive such a rating in France, the wine product and vineyard are continually subjected to quality control and strict regulations.
In the United States, we do not have a system that grants vineyards the title of ‘Grand Cru’ or the equivalent. “[Q]uality terms are not as regulated as they are in Europe. Most terms that imply quality, such as ‘reserve,’ are marketing terms here. They are not checked or approved by a regulatory body.” (Id.) It is interesting to consider the use of the term ‘Grand Cru’ by a non-French winery under conditions that are not as highly regulated. In the United States, using the term ‘Grand Cru’ can certainly be a marketing tactic. (See Sea Smoke Declares Own Vineyards ‘Grand Cru’ on the Label.) However, while the French may possess a strong regulatory system that awards vineyards with the prestigious title of the ‘Grand Cru’ term, is the use of this term by the French also not a form of marketing—especially to the American market?
More appropriately keyed to On Reserve readership, however, are the interesting legal implications of this term. Whereas ‘Grand Cru’ is not a legally-protected wine name (or a quality wine produced in a specified region, as outlined in the Agreement Between the United States of America and the European Community on Trade in Wine), it is still a wine term that indicates quality, standards, and regional regulation. Should the wine term ‘Grand Cru’ be protected in an analogous fashion to non-generic wines, and thus strictly reserved for wines bottled in the corresponding wine region by vineyards awarded this title? Alternatively, should the term be extended to other wine regions and allowed for marketing tactics, such we see with Sea Smoke?