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Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.netThe Story

What does ‘chateau’ mean to you? If you are an American, it may not mean much. But in France, it’s the top of the line in quality wine. Now, American vintners want to sell their wines in Europe bearing the ‘chateau’ label, and the French are up in arms.

From the American side, the argument is that the word doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, and there should be no bans on ‘chateau’ if the Americans want to use it. The American definition is wines made from ‘vines that have been traditionally used by this [chateau] wine producer or producer group.’ They feel unfairly excluded from the market by the French definition.

The French beg to differ. They only use the ‘chateau’ label on wines made at an estate from grapes that belong to the chateau. Laurent Gapenne of Chateau de Laville told the Associated Press, “The Americans could create ‘chateau’ wines from grapes from all over and of course prices would be lower. The consumer would be buying ‘chateau’ wine with the idea that the quality represents [the French] definition.” Gapenne argues that quality would be lower, impinging on the reputation of chateau wine.

What’s at Stake

In branding, a name is never just a name. A name is consumer recognition, and holds a brand’s reputation. The person that effectively captures the brand in consumers’ minds also captures the consumers’ purchasing power. This is why brands – names – are protected so fiercely, both in the United States and abroad.

A brand can be the largest portion of value that a company has. When a company is sold, it’s sold not only on its physical assets, but also based on its intangibles, such as the power of its brand. A company like Kraft isn’t just a bunch of factories and workers. Kraft is a nationally name throughout the United States, and many people will buy – or try – a product simply because it carries that name. A strong brand adds a huge amount of value to a company. Around the world, there are many laws – and lawyers – that are specifically focused on protecting brands.

In the case of chateau wine above, the French have created a strong brand presence using grapes that are basically proprietary. If you don’t have a French estate to grow chateau-owned grapes on, you can’t call your wine ‘chateau’ wine. The Americans, who can produce some very fine wines of the own, are frustrated to be so unfairly shut out of the market. They feel that if they use grapes that have traditionally been used on these French estates, they should be able to call them ‘chateau’ also, and take advantage of that brand strength.


What do you think? Should the Americans be able to produce chateau wines using similar grapes, or do the French have a strong case to protect their brand?

Let me know in the comments!! 


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