image via Hypographia
Dot Wine is coming.
The internet has gotten too big to be contained by .com, .net, .org, and .gov, so the organization in charge of internet addresses is pushing a major expansion in domain name suffixes. For years we’ve been making do with just 22 suffixes, plus a few dozen country-specific ones like .uk and .fr for Britain and France, but now the floodgates have been thrown open and everyone can choose from thousands of new keyword suffixes like .coffee, .vote, .football, and .wine.
The next step for the new suffixes, known as top-level domains (TLDs), is that internet name registries will bid for them at auction. The winning registries then own the rights to issue URLs with those TLDs. This has winemakers in an uproar.
Up till now, TLDs have basically come in two flavors.
There are open TLDs like .com and .net that anyone can register, and there are restricted TLDs like .gov and .edu that are limited to governmental and educational entities. Under the new plan, brands can apply to own their own limited domain suffixes so we’ll start to see TLDs like .pepsi and .nike, but the vast majority, including .wine, .vin, .napa, and .chardonnay will be open. The problem for winemakers is that the language speaks volumes.
The wine industry is very particular when it comes to names.
There are varietal names, vineyard names, winery estate names, and geographical appellations, and each describes a very specific combination of grape varieties and winemaking practices, topography, climate, soil, traditional methods, and sourcing of ingredients. In some European countries, these names are based on classification systems that date back many centuries—France’s goes back to 1411—and even the relatively new and evolving standards for America’s wine regions are considered critical to the industry’s integrity, quality, and reputation.
That’s why winemakers on both sides of the Atlantic are fighting the new TLDs.
They fear that the new domain names will open the door to misrepresentation. Think of how true Champagne has continued to exist in a world of lesser sparkling wines. Everything about Champagne from pruning to vineyard yields to the degree of pressing to release dates has been codified in its name, and that name has been legally protected for hundreds of years, extending into more than 70 countries and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. But the new TLDs allow anyone and everyone to register a .champagne URL. It essentially gives cyber permission for the makers of any old rotgut- fizzy or otherwise- the imprimatur of centuries of history, terroir, and reputation.
Old World (and some New) winemakers want protection for their geographic indications.
They argue that names like ‘Napa Valley,’ ‘Champagne’, and ‘Bordeaux’ should be treated in the same way as trademarks. Third parties aren’t allowed to buy up the TLDs for ‘Olympics’ or ‘Tylenol’ or ‘Sony’, but as it stands, anyone with the auction fee can saunter in and claim ‘Côtes du Rhône’ as their own.
The right side of the dot is pitting nation against nation and ancient traditionalists against new world rivals.
Most European winemakers are pushing for protection, most Australians and Canadians want a free-for-all, and there’s a split decision from the U.S. wine industry. Critics of protection like to trivialize the argument as tedious squabbles over all the silly circumflexes and and hyphens in old chateaux names. They like to point out that nobody will ever confuse a .vin Chardonnay with a .vin Chevy just because the French wine suffix can double as an acronym for vehicle identification number. They assert that geographic indications are not settled international law and that proponents should take up the fight in venues like the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Cyber-squatters are already lining up to buy the most illustrious and treasured of the appellations.
These are disinterested third parties who simply smell money in the domain name dustup and are looking to lock up ownership of wine-related TLDs. And who knows what happens then. The squatters can sit tight and charge extortionary usage fees; they can ‘flip’ ownership at a vastly inflated price to legitimate wine industry constituents; or they can dismantle a centuries-old institution, selling the related URLs to anyone and everyone with a case of plonk and a GoDaddy account.
What’s in a domaine name?
History, terroir, reputation, quality.
What’s not in a domain name?
Transparency, accountability, oversight, legal protection, global international agreement.
Learn about the new domains from the issuing agency: the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers.