'Champagne is French': Ministers denounce Russia 'sparkling wine' law

WION Web Team
Paris, FranceEdited By: Vyomica BerryUpdated: Jul 09, 2021, 05:13 PM IST


Story highlights

French champagne producers are fiercely jealous of the Appellation of Controlled Origin (AOC) that is supposed to give Russia exclusive use of the word in countries that adhere to the Lisbon Agreement on distinctive geographical indications

Russian President Vladimir Putin has upped the ante against champagne producers by signing a law reserving the appellation for Russian sparkling wine that has prompted a call for a bubbly blockade.

The adopted legislation will require French producers to attach a label to the back of their bottles sold in Russia with the description "sparkling wine."

By contrast, domestic producers of what is known in Russia as "shampanskoye" will not have to attach any such label. Shares in a leading Russian producer went up after the law came into force.

In more than 120 countries, the name "champagne" has protected status, reserving its use for sparkling wine from France's Champagne region.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian jumped into the fray as well, telling the national parliament Tuesday that if necessary, France would take the issue to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"We will act in the coming days with Russian authorities, on the bilateral and European level, to defend our producers' interests and above all the interests of our geographical indications," Le Drian said.

"If there are more blatant violations of the World Trade Organisation rules, then we will move ahead, as we have already considered doing with Russia.

"I hope that dialogue will allow us to resolve this problem," he concluded.

French champagne maker Michel Drappier worries the new Russian law on labeling imported champagne will undermine the principle he holds sacrosanct, that only champagne produced in France's Champagne region is worthy of the name.

"The word 'champagne' is magical," Drappier, 62, said at the vineyard that has been in his family for seven generations. "We have to fight so that our name is recognised, and not watered down," he said, standing above dusty wine cellars that date back to the 12th century.

Though Russia may not be the world's biggest champagne market, it ranks 15th in terms of the number of champagne bottles it imports, it's an important one because Russians tend to buy expensive bottles. 

The committee, which groups grape growers and producers in France's Champagne region, also called on diplomats to push for a change of the "unacceptable law", and urged members to halt all shipments to Russia until further notice.

Launched in 1937 under Joseph Stalin, the "Sovetskoye Shampanskoye" brand aimed to make the elite bourgeois drink acceptable for the proletariat. 

It was produced en masse and sold at affordable prices, but was recognised as being pale imitation of the French product.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "shampanskoye" label persisted, which began to pose problems for Russia, especially after it joined the WTO in 2012.

According to the association of Russian makers of sparkling wines, total output can reach 220 million bottles per year, the bulk of which use a very different production method from the one used in France.

As suggested by the term Appellation of Controlled Origin (AOC), the right to label a product is restricted to those made in the region. Champagne makers also have to follow strict production methods.

It's a name that champagne makers have been battling to protect since 1843. And the fight has not just been about using the name on sparkling wine.

They've worked to block a whole range of unrelated products from trying to profit from champagne's reputation, from cigarettes to an Yves Saint Laurent perfume.

Most recently they won a case against German supermarket chain Aldi over a champagne-flavoured sorbet, because it was judged to not taste of champagne.

It's a battle many in France will continue fighting "without fail", Trade Minister Franck Riester said on Twitter. 

(With inputs from agencies)