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At Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) new unboxing event today at 1:00 p.m., rumors are rampant we'll get a rainbow of new iPhone colors, perhaps all in varying shades of red, green, yellow, and blue. There's even talk of one in the shade of champagne.
While Apple enthusiasts are likely to be popping corks of bubbly regardless of what hue the latest iteration of the smartphone takes, there's one group of spoilsports who are already taking exception to calling it champagne: the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, or CIVC, the French trade body that controls the name of the sparkling wine.
Just as Jack Daniel's distiller Brown-Forman (NYSE: BF-B ) benefits from Tennessee's recent passage of a bill restricting straight bourbons from being called "Tennessee whiskey" if they're distilled anywhere but in Tennessee (it's even protected by the North American Free Trade Agreement), only sparkling wines produced with grapes from the Champagne region of France can call themselves "champagne."
But Apple isn't brewing up a beverage here -- it's naming a smartphone after a color. Uh-huh, says the CIVC. There's no such thing as a champagne color, they say, so you can't use the name. "So we can't say that a 'champagne' color exists. Therefore, any company wanting to use the name 'Champagne' would be doing so (only) to attract all the benefits that surrounds (the label)."
Even President Obama ran afoul of the French wine police who were up in arms that at his inaugural dinner earlier this year, the menu stated it would be serving a "Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California." After the group protested the language -- seriously, it did -- the organizing committee had to scramble to change the designation to "California Champagne" in time for the dinner.
The CIVC regularly prosecutes misuse of the word, and is often successful, because some 35 countries forbid the use of the term for sparkling wines produced outside of the French region. Even the U.S. is a signatory, though it allows for a state producing bubbly to have the state's name appear directly before or after the word champagne, hence the reason the Korbel being served to Obama was changed on the menu.
Such regulations are called "standards of identity," which determine what a food product must contain or how it is made to be marketed under a certain name. The CIVC even successfully battled the French government's tobacco monopoly over naming a cigarette brand "Champagne."
But again, despite the regulatory body's protests to the contrary, at least here in the U.S., there's a generally accepted idea of a color of champagne, and threats to take Apple to court over such a plan is ludicrous, though it's perhaps noteworthy that Crayola has never had a crayon named after the drink.
Still Honda Motors (NYSE: HMC ) has "champagne frost pearl" as a color option for its cars, as does General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , which offers some of its vehicles in "champagne silver metallic." But the French are likely to be more strident about protecting their brand because of flagging sales of bubbly. Sales volumes were down 2.9% over the first six months of 2013, with France itself down more than 5% and Europe off 6%. As a result the CIVC is only allowing vintners to yield 10,500 kilograms per hectare this year compared to 11,000 kilograms last year, or 305 million bottles of Champagne.
Obviously, Apple may surprise everyone and come out with a Kentucky Bourbon color instead, but whatever hue it chooses, the public will probably raise a toast to the next generation of iPhone anyway.