In a provocative move last month, Vladimir Putin signed legislation requiring all non-Russian producers to mark their products in Russia as “sparkling wine” on the back of every bottle, including some of the world’s most famous and expensive sparkling wines. Under the law, only locally made Shampanskoye is worthy of the prestigious and previously exclusive name, and French appellations are not recognised. The name, which was established under Stalin in the 1920s, is still widely used by privately-owned producers today. The law, protects “shampanskoye” by giving it a unique status and exempting it from the rule.
The celebrated champagne producer Moët Hennessy, part of the LVMH group that includes Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Krug and Dom Pérignon and earlier this year bought 50% stake in Armand de Brignac, initially threatened to suspend exports to Russia, but then reconsidered, when the company announced it would resume deliveries. “The Moët Hennessy champagne houses have always respected the law in place wherever they operate and will restart deliveries as soon as it is able to make the [label] changes,” the group said.
Russian deputies have claimed they are protecting the domestic sparkling wine industry, but even the owners of Abrau-Durso, the Russian wine producer whose stock briefly spiked 8% on news that French suppliers could be halting imports, downplayed the news, telling Reuters: “We are in completely different price segments – imported French champagne is many times more expensive.”
France has 16,200 champagne wine growers and 360 champagne houses, producing around 231m bottles a year. The vast majority of champagne is made from only three grapes: pinot noir, meunier and chardonnay. The market is worth €4.2bn, of which €2.6bn is exports, with the UK and US the biggest customers. Russia imports almost 50m litres of sparkling wine every year. French champagne represents 13% of this market and Moët Hennessy only 2% of this.
French producers are famously fiercely protective of the AOC, or Controlled Appellation of Origin, that is supposed to give them exclusive use of the word in countries that adhere to the Lisbon Agreement on Distinctive Geographical Indications. Of course, many a reader might know or realise that the word Champagne comes from the Latin Campania, meaning meadows, rural, soil or even wild-bush, and, is clearly where the Italian region of Campania gets it name from. There are a number of regions in Europe called “Campania” by the Romans, if nothing else we have the Champagne Cognac, Cognac that is produced from grapes grown in two appellations located within the Cognac region, the Grande Champagne and/or the Petit Champagne appellations.
The French champagne producers’ committee said the region was “scandalised” by the Russian legislation and called on French and European officials to demand that “this unacceptable law be modified”. It also initially called for the suspension of champagne exports to Russia. “Depriving the people of Champagne the right to use their name is scandalous. It’s our common heritage and the apple of our eye,” said Maxime Toubart and Jean-Marie Barillère, co-presidents of the Comité Champagne. “The Champagne name is protected in more than 120 countries.” “The Champagne Committee deplores the fact that this legislation does not ensure that Russian consumers have clear and transparent information about the origins and characteristics of wine,” group co-presidents said in a statement, at one of the most well-structured and disciplined organisations in the world, . French Trade Minister Franck Riester said he was tracking the new Russian law closely and was in contact with the wine industry and France’s European partners.
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