A new Russian law has French champagne winemakers foaming at the mouth: they consider it “scandalous” that the Russian designation “Shampanskoye” is to be reserved only for Russian wine houses. This is regulated by an amendment which the Russian president Vladimir Putin had signed before kuzrem. The French government has already protested, too.
FRANCE (Paris) – “Russian champagne law degrades foreign products to sparkling wine” and this new regulation does not give “Russian consumers a clear and transparent information about the origin and the character of the wines”, the French trade association of vintners “Comité champagne”, which represents the producers from the historical province Champagne, complains.
According to the association, French Champagne producers are no longer allowed to print “Shampanskoye” in Cyrillic script on the label. They may continue to use “Champagne” in Latin script, but must add “sparkling wine” as the Cyrillic description on the back of the bottle.
This is “a scandal,” the co-presidents of the Champagne Winegrowers Association, Maxime Toubart and Jean-Marie Barillère, complain. After all, they say, champagne is French “cultural heritage.” Because of the name dispute, they called on all producers to stop deliveries to Russia.
“France’s position is quite clear,” says Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie. “The word ‘champagne’ comes from the beautiful French regions where champagne is produced,” he told a radio station. And as such, the name enjoys protection worldwide – in 120 countries, according to the association.
Champagne in the export market Shampanskoye
As an export market, Russia only comes in 15th place for French champagne winemakers, with around two million of the total 150 million bottles exported there each year. But the Russian upper class buys particularly noble cuvées, says the director general of the Champagne Committee, Charles Goemaere.
The dispute over the name is possibly based on a historical misunderstanding: The “Soviet Shampanskoye” brand, first introduced in 1937 under Josef Stalin, was intended to make the bourgeois drink accessible to all proletarians. Soviet producers therefore threw masses of cheap sparkling wines onto the market, such as the “Krimsekt” known in Germany.
There is probably no danger that wealthy Russians might confuse such cheap domestic varieties with genuine champagne from France. However, the name “Shampanskoye,” inherited from the Soviet era, has been a problem, especially since Russia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2012. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he hoped for a “dialogue” with Moscow in the name dispute. But if that fails, Paris will turn to the WTO, he said.
Nevertheless, Russians will probably be able to toast with “real” champagne in the future: French producer Moët Hennessy announced on Sunday that it would resume deliveries “as soon as possible” after the name dispute.
The courts decide
France’s champagne winemakers have been defending the protected designation of origin by legal means for decades: In Germany, producers recently took Aldi to court. They objected to the designation “Champagne sorbet” for an ice cream – and prevailed in the final instance. In 2019, the Federal Court of Justice ordered Aldi to change the name because the ice cream contained champagne but did not taste of it. The same was true of a tapas bar in Barcelona, which the Champagne Committee accuses of “free-riding” and wants to have the name Champanillo banned. And finally, the French litigated with the Swiss municipality of Champagne for over a decade, ultimately prevailing.
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