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06.12.2006

When Wine Labels Get Political

We all know that wine plays into politics on a regular basis, and not just in places like France where politicians are often called on to regulate wine-related matters. Direct shipping of wine has become a political football in the US, and recently Russia shoved wine to the forefront of its trade dispute with Georgia and Moldova.

The latest political news involving wine, however, has got all the others beat. On a technicality.

In a move that can only be described as bizarre, the state run liquor board in Sweden has decided that all the wine it imports from the Golan Heights will show the country of origin as "Syrian occupied territory" rather than Israel, which is what the bottles used to (and should) read. Strange, no?

Even stranger is the fact that everyone seems to be maintaining that this was a decision that blossomed within the liquor board itself, rather than through pressure from any other arm of government (which is the only way I would have imagined something like this could occur). Who knows what the Foreign Ministry means, exactly, when they say "it had no involvement in the company's final decision," but there are plenty of local politicians who are upset enough by the move to make it seem that this doesn't represent some governmental point of view, at least in aggregate.

Israeli wine producers and trade officials are, of course, furious, but there is little they can do, as the country designation is added in Sweden after the wine is imported.

I hope no one in Congress hears about this -- next time we get into a diplomatic flap with some country about the War on Terror we're likely to start seeing our wines labeled as being from "Evil-doer-istan."

Read the full story.

Comments (9)

Antonio wrote:
06.13.06 at 10:07 AM

Sounds like a war on terroir to me.

Rob Cole wrote:
06.13.06 at 1:53 PM

Best comment ever, Antonio.

I've been wondering how many hits the NSA has been getting for people misspelling the word 'terrior'.

Chris wrote:
06.13.06 at 2:49 PM

Technically, I believe the Golan Heights are part of Syria. They were captured by Israel in Yom Kippur War ('73). In the early 80's Israel effectively annexed the Golan Heights, but to my knowledge neither the UN nor any nation has acknowledged this transfer. Thus, the world seems to agree with the Swedish liquor board.

Please note my comment is not intended to be partisan, simply factual.

Alder wrote:
06.13.06 at 3:00 PM

Chris,

Thanks for the comment, and the accurate description of the geo-political situation. Sadly, this sort of thing is happening all the time all over the world. To wit: Cyprus, The Faulklands, Kashmir, Serbia, Chechnya, etc.

Despite (legitimate) disputes over who the land actually belongs to, the folks who live there, grow the grapes, make the wine, and sell it, think of themselves as Israelis. They have corporations that are licensed in the country of Israel. The purchase of these products are governed by the trade treaties between Sweden and Israel (not Syria), the taxes paid on these products by Sweden go to Israel, etc. etc. You get my point.

There are plenty of more effective (and easier to fathom) ways that Sweden could have made its views known about the political geography of the middle east.

chris wrote:
06.13.06 at 3:50 PM

Alder,

Let’ say a deeply patriotic American grows grapes in Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. His/her American-owned company produces markets and sells the wine. Despite all the American involvement in the production of this wine, I think we’d both agree the wine should be considered a Canadian product and labeled as such. This is based on the idea that the Okanagan terroir is an important component of wine, certainly much more so than the citizenship of the wine maker, which nation he pays taxes to, etc.

So in this regard, I respectfully disagree with you. To me, the wine is clearly made in Syria and therefore should be marked as such.

That being said, I wholeheartedly agree that the term “Syrian occupied territory” serves only political purposes, not wine purposes. It’s important for a consumer to know where the wine came from, but probably not which nation’s guns currently control that territory. Well, at least that’s not important in terms of enjoying the wine, though of course if one has strong political views on the issues than maybe it is important.

But in any case, I agree that use of the term “Syrian occupied territory” is unfortunate. However, I think “Golan Heights, Syria” is preferable to “Golan Heights, Israel”. Maybe the best outcome would be simply “Golan Heights”, with no country designation.

Alder wrote:
06.13.06 at 4:10 PM

Heh, heh, Chris,

I understand your point. But I'm not sure the analogy you set up makes sense. It's much closer to insisting that grapes grown behind the white house be labeled as Canadian rather than America because the District of Columbia is technically a Canadian Province, even though for the past 60 years it has had a US zip code, and been part of this country.

The important part of the equation, as you say, when it comes to specifying terroir is the Golan Heights part, not what follows the comma. Though we could get into all sorts of interesting discussions in the case of a disputed piece of land that each country called something different....

Geoff Smith wrote:
06.13.06 at 4:59 PM

The big shame here is not whether one country or another demands precision in labeling a wine's origin.

The big shame here is that the international community is so untogether that it allows one country occupy another country's land, without doing anything about it.

Chris wrote:
06.14.06 at 8:47 AM

Agreed Alder, "Golan Heights" is the important part.

boyd wrote:
06.14.06 at 4:31 PM

How about just putting the latitude and longitude?

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