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Champagne Wars

In a land far, far away (actually, not so far) – in Russia, and a land even less far away – France (it’s all relative to where you are really), there’s conflict brewing over the celebratory sparkling wine ‘champagne’.

Russia calls its sparkling wine 'shampanskoye' (I can tell you on good authority that it is good and inexpensive). The problem now comes from a law that Russia passed on Friday stating that only local sparkling wines can use this word; imports must label their brands as ‘sparkling wines’ on the back of the bottle. The word ‘champagne’ can be used on the front but 'shampanskoye' is reserved for local produce only. This creates a whole new conflict around produce from France as European protocols for locally produced food and drink allow particular regions exclusive protected status – in the UK, think Melton Mowbray pork pies, Cornish clotted cream or Jersey royal potatoes.

Moët Hennessy, France's most well-known champagne-maker, was forced to suspend deliveries to Russia last weekend to add the 'sparkling wine' label on bottles to comply with the law. Russia imports almost 50m litres of sparkling wine every year with French champagne representing 13% of this market and Moët Hennessy 2% of this.*

This is a classic conflict where the parties need to understand the real objectives of the other side, and by so doing might save themselves a fortune.

Russia appears very proud of its sparkling wine and wants to promote its quality by calling it champagne. France on the other hand is culturally synonymous with produce such as champagne and wants to defend its heritage accordingly.

There could be lots of potential solutions e.g. - wording - ‘champagne from the champagne region’, relative positioning of the words on the label, size of the words etc.

If a way can be found for Russia to continue to promote their sparkling wine as the local ‘champagne’; whilst French brands maintain their prestige, maybe honour could be satisfied? This could be a classic case of problem solving a conflict rather than a lengthy protracted and expensive negotiation going through the courts.

We do however need to be ‘mindful’ of precedent – whilst the EU could continue to prevent other EU nations from adopting the approach Russia has taken; outside of the EU it could be more difficult. Has Boris has thought about this in his ongoing trade discussions… ?

Champagne region taste or 'shampanskoye' money?!

Sam Macbeth, 14th July 2021

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