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WineInk: Champagne & Powder

The Law of the Land?

Kelly J. Hayes
Wine Ink
A snowboarder rides through powder on the opening day of Aspen Highlands for the 2020-21. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

It’s one of the great word combinations in the entire lexicon of man. The phrase marries the notion of luxury sparkling wine with the reality of deep fluffy snow. What could be better than that?

Well, of course the only thing better is the actual gift of Champagne & powder, something that we have had in abundance so far in this winter of 2021-22. That is to say, snow that is so light and fresh that it actually tickles one’s nose, just like the bubbles in a glass of Champagne. Snow so light that it scatters when the wind whispers, so light that it envelops and then falls gently from your thighs as you make silent turns down the mountain. Skiing Champagne & powder is the Nordic equivalent of getting tubed while surfing or having a wine epiphany while drinking. It represents the ultimate experience.

Now, you might be wondering why I am using an ampersand (that’s what the “&” thingy is called) to divide the words “Champagne” and “powder” in this story. Well, if you must know, it is for legal reasons. The phrase “CHAMPAGNE POWDER ” is actually trademarked.



WHAAAAT???

The Steamboat Ski and Resort Company, you know those guys up north of us who we always think of as wranglers and cowboys, the home of Billy Kidd and Moose Barrows and the skiing Werners? Well, they placed a legal hold on the term “CHAMPAGNE POWDER” back on Feb. 6, 2008. It says the original application was “entered in Tram,” a reference I’m guessing to their gondola cars? I wonder if it was a powder day.




Anyway, they have been beuacoup aggressive in ¬using their legal authority to stop people from using the term. In 2020 they renewed registration number 3796193, which dictates legal ownership of the merger of the words “CHAMPAGNE POWDER” for “providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities.” Whatever that means.

Over the years, the lawyers, or legal wranglers, for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Company (one assumes that that name is also trademarked) have issued cease and desist orders to several entities hoping to use the phrase for their own purposes. There was a casino game manufacturer, for instance, that wanted to use the phrase in 2014 but were disallowed by Steamboat.

And in 2010, our very own Carolyn Sackariason vented vociferously when The Aspen Times was issued a cease and desist letter on Jan. 4, 2010 (perhaps a powder day?) after the paper had run a headline that linked the words “Champagne” and “powder.”

“Are you frickin’ kidding me?” was the response Sackariason had in the “On the Hill” column about the demand from the corporate counsel at Steamboat to “ALWAYS capitalize the term as “CHAMPAGNE POWDER” or “Champagne Powder” and follow it with the TM symbol, as well as the word “snow.” She stated that “the snow conditions at locations other than the Steamboat Ski Resort may be described as ‘powder,’ ‘packed powder,’ etc., but not as champagne powder.”

Sounds like she was rightfully incensed.

This kerfuffle goes back to the 1950s, before the Steamboat Ski Resort was even a place, legal or otherwise. The legend goes that Joe McElroy, a rancher from Kremmling, had gone skiing with friends on a sweet powder day near the town of Steamboat Springs. After a face shot, rumor has it, he told his skiing companions that the snow tickled his nose like Champagne. Thus, the term was born. Years later, knowing a good descriptor when they heard one, the marketing folks at the resort co-opted the phrase to describe their snow and eventually made it legally their own.

Travis Andrews skis through powder in the Boomerang Trees on Aspen Highlands on March 8, 2019. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times)

This whole thing makes me ponder the question, “Can Steamboat use the term Champagne for their marketing purposes?” I suppose counsel at the resort investigated this, but the fact of the matter is that the name Champagne is, itself, a protected product.

As readers of this column in the past know, for a wine to be called Champagne it must originate from the Champagne region of France and be produced using techniques that are dictated by the consortium of producers there, the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, who deem the appropriate steps for production.

The history of this legal protection goes back to the 1891 Madrid System treaty and was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles just after World War I. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and 130 or so countries around the world recognize the rights of the Champagne name and while the Steamboat-ers are not making wines and marketing them under false naming rights, they are appropriating the image of luxury and tying that to their snow.

Just saying.

There has been another appropriation recently of the use of the word Champagne, this time not from Kremmling, in Colorado’s Grand County, but rather from the Kremlin in Russia’s Moscow.

Last July, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, signed an amendment to Russian federal law that mandated the word Шампанское (shampanskoye) be used to describe sparkling wines produced in Russia. In a tweak to the French, the move will force French Champagne producers to use “sparkling wine” on their labels instead of the internationally recognized moniker of Champagne. “Scandalous” is how the French producers described the violation of international property rules that, if it stands, will be both humbling and expensive. The French, for a time, halted the export of Champagne to Russia, but they resumed sending wines in time for the New Year’s festivities. Legal avenues are being explored.

I guess the point is that words matter in wine and skiing, just like they do in the rest of the world. It is unfortunate that we live in a time when barristers are the arbitrators of what words we can use to express our love for something as serendipitous and authentic as CHAMPAGNE POWDER, but there you have it.

We here in Aspen, long before the founding of Steamboat, have a long history of combining our love of Champagne and pristine powder snow into a life experience. Since the first boat tow opened on Aspen Mountain, a toast to the season was expected. Perhaps my favorite Champagne and snow compilation was the Oasis Champagne Bar. A joint venture of the Little Nell Hotel and Veuve Clicquot, the mobile bar on Aspen Mountain that popped up in surprise locations for six years or so, ending in 2019. Orange flutes, blue skies, pristine white snow. What could be better?

But, as words matter, I wish to defer back to Carolyn Sackariason and her outraged “On the Hill” column. In it, she pondered, “If Steamboat has CHAMPAGNE POWDER TM ‘snow,’ then what does Aspen have? Better Powder? Cristal Powder? Dom Pérignon Powder?”

How about just the best powder on Earth?

UNDER THE INFLUENCE


VEUVE CLICQUOT YELLOW LABEL CHAMPAGNE BRUT

Regardless of what the Russians call it, they drink a lot of this stuff. As does the entire world. And rightfully so. This ubiquitous bottling has had a Yellow Label since 1897 and has been a “trademark” of the good life since 1897. A non-vintage wine produced annually, this is a blend of the three Champagne grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) from as many as fifty different crus, or villages, in the Champagne region. The wine has a clean, crisp acidity, a hint of smoke or toast on the nose and the kind of bubbles that tickle your nose. While not inexpensive, it will not set you back a Benjamin like some other Champagnes.

And it is welcome at any ski resort.

Aspen Times Weekly


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