But they are.
The European Commission, the 27-nation European Union’s executive body in Brussels, is considering a U.S. request to drop a ban on import into Europe of American wines bearing the label “chateau” or “clos,” a similar term used mainly on wines from Burgundy in eastern France. An E.U. wine committee is tentatively scheduled to vote on the request Sept. 25, whereupon it will go to the commission for a final decision that, given the tides of globalization in Europe, could well be positive.
“They’re trying to steal our reputation,” Haverlan said during a tour of his sun-splashed property. “The real chateaux, they’re certainly not in the United States.”
Preservation of “chateau” on wine bottles is another chapter in France’s long struggle between tradition and globalization. Throughout the country, peasants and craftsmen are fighting to maintain the value of expensive prestige accumulated over centuries — just the right cheese, or a perfect dress — against an onslaught of cheaper imitations sloshing in on the latest freighter from abroad. With borders disappearing and trade increasingly ignoring origins, their voices are getting weaker every year.
The economic stakes are high.
In France alone, a country of 65 million inhabitants, people consumed an average of more than 12 gallons of wine a head in 2011; the industry employed about 50,000 workers, no small consideration in a stalled economy with 10 percent unemployment. Exports brought in almost $9 billion, helping offset a badly negative trade balance. Among the 27 European Union countries, exports to the United States alone totaled more than $2.2 billion last year.
But for people like Haverlan, the stakes go beyond their pocketbook. In their mind, they are heirs to a national treasure that must be preserved the same way Egypt preserves the pyramids and Greece the Parthenon.
Haverlan, the son of a Bordeaux winemaker, started his first winery at age 21. Since then, he has acquired control of two prestigious chateaux: the Vieux Chateau Gaubert, which produces 180,000 bottles a year selling at just under $20, and the nearby Chateau de La Brede, where the philosopher Montesquieu was born in 1689.