Category Archives: Industry News

Inaugural “California Champagne” Controversy

korbelnaturalYesterday, at President Obama’s Inaugural Luncheon, three wines were served, including a Korbel Natural Special Inaugural Cuvée California Champagne. Korbel, as you may know, is a California winery, and the wine it produces, as you’d imagine, comes from California. However, the label for this wine (and most of its sparkling wines) says “Champange.” If you are a sparkling wine connoisseur, or even a regular imbiber of bubbles, you probably know that very few sparkling wines outside of Champagne actually put the name, “Champagne” on the label. You may even remember a law that was passed specifically banning the use of Champagne on a label if the wine did not come from the region of Champagne. So why does Korbel have the privilege to use such a term on their label?

The French organization known as the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) has worked very hard to regulate the use of Champagne on labels outside of Champagne. The European Union protects the Champagne designation and limits its use on wine labels to wines from Champagne. Many other countries around the world have signed agreements with the EU and France to ban the use of Champagne on their own wine labels. The United States entered such an agreement as well, but with a grandfather clause. Wineries who were operating and producing sparkling wine before the agreement was signed in 2005 are legally (according to US law) able to use the term “champagne” on their label. But most don’t. One that does, however, is Korbel, the subject of much controversy regarding President Obama’s inaugural luncheon.

Korbel Wine Cellars began producing “California Champagne” in the late 1800s, when using the term “champagne” on wine labels outside of champagne caused no worldwide ire. They have continued to do so, even with the sale of the company, a sale that mandated continuation of the term “champagne” on the label. They are old school. They’ve been using the term for years and have no reason – or requirement by law – to change. But other wineries who produce sparkling wine in California who are “grandfathered” in do not use the term, mostly out of respect for the Champagne region. Interestingly, the  majority of California sparkling wines who continue to use “California Champagne” on their labels are priced below $15. Those pricing their wines in the $30+ brand themselves as California sparkling wine. It reflects the fact that the majority of wine consumers on the market most likely do not understand the difference of Champagne and sparkling wine.

So most everyday wine drinkers thought nothing of the fact that President Obama chose Korbel to serve at his inaugural luncheon, despite the fact that it called itself “California Champagne). But Champagne producers and representatives were quite in uproar, and I’m sure those wine drinkers who have a strong tie to place accuracy were also a bit peeved.

It’s funny that the US allows this, but has also banned wineries from using US place names on their label. When Calistoga received AVA status, Calistoga Cellars had to change its name. Wines that put “Napa” on the label but did not hail from Napa changed their labels, but California Champagne remains, and we doubt that Korbel or Cook or anyone else will stand up to voluntarily change this until the law makes them.

The 100 once again says… everyone loves a good Cabernet value!

Today we release our 6th annual 100. It’s our list of the Top 100 wines sold on for the first 11 months of 2011.  It’s the only 100 list compiled based on customer activity rather than critics ratings. Since we go through over 13,000 unique wines in a year, the top 100 list really showcases what people are saying with their wallets.

One resounding theme that has run through all of our 100 lists – everyone loves a great value. In particular, a great value Cabernet. In four out of six 100 lists, a value Cabernet under $15 came in at #1. This year, it’s the Columbia Crest Two Vines 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington. The 2009 is now sold out, but the 2010 is in stock and is fantastic! The rest of the list mimics the same kind of buying behavior we see each year – lots of wine from California (40) and lots of Cabernet Sauvignon (29), plus imports and domestic wines shared equal presence (50/50). But a few things stood out this year.

Italy doubled in popularity, growing from 6 bottles last year to 12 this year.
– White wine grew as well, going from 14 bottles to 24  bottles, with Chardonnay (9) and Sauvignon Blanc (5) leading the charge.
–  Six of the top 10 were Cabernet Sauvignon. While Cabernet usually leads as the top grape in our list, six in the top 10 definitely showed the grape’s popularity.
– A dry rose finally made the list! Though we have featured sparkling rose on our 100, a dry rose finally made an appearance in 2012 at #67. The wine? Of course the Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rose, which, sadly, is sold out in most markets. Expect it to come back in stock next Feburary so you can stock up for spring and summer!

Enjoy shopping the 100 and stock up on your favorites next year so that you can help influence next year’s list! Cheers!


Nicolas Catena: The “godfather” of Argentine wine

Last weekend, Nicolas Catena Zapata received the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the Wine Spectator. No surprise. The godfather of Argentine wine, Nicolas Catena . The description for the Distinguished Service Award is for those “who have made significant and long-lasting contributions to the wine industry. All have displayed a passion for excellence, an appetite for innovation and a commitment to sharing the fruits of their success with those less fortunate.”

Nicolas Catena Zapata came from a winemaking family. His grandfather, Nicolas, planted his first Malbec vines in 1902. His father, Domingo, continued to grow the family’s winery holdings, eventually passing the reigns onto  his son, Nicolas, in the 1960s. After gaining inspiration watching the Napa Valley rise in quality in the 1970s and 80s, Nicolas set out to craft quality wine in Argentine. Like many visionaries, he was seen as slightly crazy for 1. placing his entire focus on fine wine and 2. planting Malbec at a high altitude. Both risks, however, turned out to be successful. Over the past few decades, Catena, along with his daughter, Laura, has brought Argentine wine – particularly Malbec – to the forefront of the wine world, showing that this grape can produce both value and ageworthy wines.

We congratulate Nicolas Catena Zapata on this well-deserved award and hope, if you have not already, you will try some of the fantastic wines produced at Catena. It is here that you will taste the true terroir of Argentina.

Celebrate California Wine Month

Once again, September brings us the official California Wine Month. Though our customers never shy away from California wine (it’s our top selling region year after year), now is the time to stock up on your favorite bottles to help celebrate the great Golden State.

For all of our social fans, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed to tell us your favorite California Wine. We’ll put together a list on our site of “ Fan Favorite Cali Wines” and offer a special discount later this month!

Some things about California Wine you may not know…

-California makes 90% of all U.S. wine and is the world’s 4th leading
wine producer after France, Italy and Spain. (Which means that if California were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth largest wine producer.)
– 3,540 bonded wineries
– 211.9 million cases = California wine sales volume into the U.S. market, with shipments growing 26% since 2002’s 168.7 million cases.
– $19.9 billion retail value: Estimated retail value of California wine sales in the U.S. 61% share of U.S. market by volume.
– Three of every five bottles sold in the U.S. is a California wine.
– 4,600 grapegrowers
– 543,000 acres of winegrapes: Winegrapes are grown in 48 of 58 counties in California; 115 federally approved American Viticultural Areas.
– More than 110 winegrape varieties.

Find more fun statistics on California wine at

The Tasting Room

Welcome to the newest feature on The Tasting Room.

We’re a virtual company. In so many ways that rocks. You can shop for wine from the comfort of your home in your super soft slippers, you can search wines by just about any possible measurement (variety, region, vintage, alcohol volume, ratings, etc), and you have it all delivered to your door. When you go in knowing – or having an idea of – what you want, it is the perfect situation. But sometimes you need a helping hand. A guide to what might interest you, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced taster. With that in mind, we’ve created our very own online tasting room.

The purpose? To offer personalized service and recommendations. Kind of like you were at a winery tasting room. You don’t have to know a lot, but if you do happen to be a wine geek, you won’t be disappointed either. The tasting room will have monthly themes for each level. We’ve divided those levels into Novice, Enthusiast and Collector. The definitions of which are:

Novice: You love wine, but you’re still learning
Enthusiast: You are hooked on discovery
Collector: You are looking for the best

The Tasting Room is a work in progress. For our first month, we’ve chosen the over-arching theme of Cabernet. It is, after all, the most popular variety on So check out the lists, see if you want to pick and choose some wines. You may want to hop from Novice to Collector or stick with Enthusiast the whole time. It’s up to you. No membership required, no fees or commitment, we’re just trying to give you a little bit of education & hand-picked love. Stay-tuned for next month’s themes, as Italy will take center stage!

Feel free to send us feedback! is ready for your suggestions.