Oddly Enough

Swiss village vows to fight Champagne name ban

CHAMPAGNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - The Swiss wine-growing community of Champagne voted on Saturday to fight an attempt to restrict use of the village’s name to French wine.

A forklift decorated with a French flag removes the sign bearing the community name Champagne at the entrance of the village of Champagne, west of Geneva April 5, 2008. Swiss wine-growing community of Champagne vowed on Saturday to continue its fight to use the name of the village to label its production. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

In a traditional Swiss open-air vote, villagers said they would push to continue using the name Champagne, limited under international trade rules to the French sparkling wine region, for their own produce.

A mechanical excavator decked with a French flag tore out the sign bearing the name Champagne at the entrance of the village in a symbolic protest at its loss of identity.

In Switzerland’s bilateral accords with the European Union, the Swiss government conceded in 1999 that the name Champagne would be reserved for the famous French wine. The Swiss village was given until 2004 to phase out the use of its name.

“In this village we no longer have the right to use our own name,” Thomas Bindschedler, spokesman of the village action committee, told the public gathering.

“In a market where consumers are increasingly concerned with the accountability of producers, that is fatal.”

Bindschedler said village wine producers used to sell 110,000 bottles of wine. That fell to 32,000 last year after the wine was sold under labels that made no reference to its place of origin.

The villagers have been angered by a case passing through the courts in Paris challenging the right of the local bakery to sell biscuits labelled “Champagne recipe”.

Villagers point out that the name of their community is documented as far back as 885 and the first records of wine being grown in the village date back to 1657.

Bindschedler said the village did not want to deprive the makers of sparkling wine in France from using the Champagne name. They just wanted the right to use their own name to show the origin of their produce.

Protecting the place names for wines and other produce, known as geographical indications or appellations, is surfacing as a major issue in world trade talks in Geneva.

Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Robert Woodward