France And Russia Are In A Tussle Over Who Gets To Call Champagne ... 'Champagne'
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Russian President Vladimir Putin put French Champagne makers in a fizz last month after he issued a decree stating only Russian bubbly makers could label their products as champagne. The French argue that champagne's special protected status means that real champagne can only come from - well, you know. Reporter Rebecca Rosman recently traveled to the capital of the Champagne region in France to see how the industry is responding.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOTTLES CLINKING)
REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: Bottles get stacked together in this chilly basement cellar at the Comite Champagne.
MARIE GENAND: It's about 12 degrees Celsius.
ROSMAN: Or 50 degrees Fahrenheit, says Marie Genand, a lawyer for the organization which oversees production and trade for the Champagne region's 15,000 winemakers. Her job - protect champagne's name in France and around the world.
GENAND: A lot of people want to use a name and take the reputation of champagne names.
ROSMAN: Most recently, the Kremlin - in early July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law reserving the use of the word champagne in the Russian market for sparkling wines produced in Russia. Imported French Champagne can no longer call itself champagne.
GENAND: We were shocked, we can say, I think.
ROSMAN: For now, many French Champagne producers are caving in. Moet Hennessy, arguably the most recognizable French Champagne house, said it already spent hundreds of thousands of euros to change its labels to comply with the new Russian law. Others are undecided, like Marie Collard, a fifth-generation champagne maker.
MARIE COLLARD: (Speaking French).
ROSMAN: "I can understand the Russians wanting to defend their own sparkling wine," Collard says, "but the word champagne belongs to this region. We hold it close to our hearts."
She and her husband started their own brand, Collard-Picard, in 1996. Today, they produce more than 150,000 bottles a year with a good clientele in Russia. But she's not ready to change her labels, even if it means losing business.
COLLARD: (Speaking French).
ROSMAN: "It's also about respect for our ancestors," she says. "If the name champagne has any value today, it's because we have incredibly strict production rules in Champagne, which cannot be compared to vineyards elsewhere."
Twenty-nine-year-old Rachel Hardy from Belgium is tasting a flight of Collard's Champagne for her upcoming wedding when she overhears the conversation and nods in eager agreement.
RACHEL HARDY: You need a ground. You need a climate. You need people working and learning how to work with the grapes for ages from their parents and grandparents and stuff. So you can't just decide to make champagne outside of Champagne. It's not your call.
ROSMAN: But she admits she is slightly curious about the Russian version. Russians are equally proud of their product, which, even though the Soviet Union is long gone, is still sold as Soviet champagne. Meanwhile, Marie Genand says the Comite Champagne is hoping to reach some sort of compromise with Moscow.
GENAND: So we work with the Champenois, with the French government and all the politicians to have the law suspended first and try to discuss with the Russian parties to have something different.
ROSMAN: Which would end in a friendly toast.
For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in L'Epine, France.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE TRAGICALLY HIP SONG, "THE DARKEST ONE")