It seems absurd that a drink originating in the French region of Champagne cannot bear that name. But that is exactly what Russia has established through a new law: champagne that is not produced on Russian soil is forbidden to be called “champagne”. For President Vladimir Putin, who signed the law last Friday, it must be called “sparkling wine”.
A real shot in the liver for the French group Moët Hennessy, author of the well-known champagne brands such as Moët et Chandon, Veuve Cliquot and Dom Perignon, whose exports to Russia have had to be suspended until a solution is found.
So far, the French group seems to want to adapt to the new legislation and renounce the word “champagne” in Cyrillic alphabet (“shampanskoe”) to use only the designation “sparkling wine” on its labels. A purely pragmatic commercial move that would allow it to continue to lead a market that brings in €35 million annually from the sale of 1.8 million bottles, according to figures from the Comité Champagne in 2020.
French champagne could equally well use the name “champagne” in Latin alphabet, but this would not help sales in the Russian market, as its consumers are not in the slightest habit of reading French – or English or Spanish – on a commercial label.
While the Moët Hennessy group has reacted with commercial astuteness and promises that its exports to Russia will resume very soon, on the side of the Comité Champagne, which brings together all the vineyards and Champagne houses in France and stands as the true national guardian of the French drink, the reaction is one of astonishment.
They consider this to be “an unacceptable law” and have called on the French Foreign Ministry and European diplomacy to get the text amended. Champagne professionals claim that “these regulations do not provide Russian consumers with clear and transparent information on the origin and characteristics of wines”.
However, there may also be a political background. While it is true that the difference between “sparkling wine” and “champagne” may be interpreted by producers as an insult, it should be remembered that customers of Moët et Chandon or Veuve Cliquot are informed enough to know that they will be drinking French champagne, even if the label does not say so in those words.
Is this then a way to put pressure on France from Moscow? Is this the “champagne war” to further undermine a bad relationship between Macron and Putin?
In France, you can’t just call any sparkling drink “champagne”. To deserve that name, it is necessary to comply with the legal production procedure required by the so-called “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC), regulated by the National Institute of Origin and Quality, under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The AOC title on a bottle of champagne guarantees that the conditions of that name have been respected, such as production on land suitable for the grape varieties that make up its recipe. Although it is true that champagne is no longer necessarily produced in the historic province of Champagne -since the world demand is enormous and would not be able to supply it- there are rules that establish that the vineyards that produce it must comply with specific soil, water and density conditions to obtain the authorized grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Muenier, Chardonnay, Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris.
It is also necessary to comply with the technical conditions of grape growing and the production, pressing and elaboration methods specific to champagne. Not forgetting that there are specific rules for bottling and presentation.
The “Champagne” appellation is protected in France and in 120 other countries in the world, although with Russia bilateral talks have been extended for 20 years for the protection of this and other French product names to be recognized. The Russian law of July 2 is a kick at the table of these talks.
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