Champagne comes from France, right?

The discussion about the rights to the term ‘champagne’ has been set right aflame after Putin signed a new law that gives Russian winemakers the sole right to the appellation champagne in Russia. The new law puts French producers in a tough situation in Russia. But what are the rules for geographical indications actually?

The name champagne has been a protected title since it was registered under the EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 1973.

As such, only winemakers who produce their sparkling wines in the Champagne district in France can use the product description ‘champagne’. These are the same rules that apply when only the Greeks are allowed to market cheese as feta, and Italians in the Parma district have the exclusive right to market products as Parma ham.

Winemakers from other French wine district therefore have to settle for calling their wines ‘crémant’, while the Italian call their sparkling wines ‘spumante’ or ‘prosecco’ and the Spanish use the name ‘cava’ on their bottles.

A label carrying the name ‘champagne’ is therefore – in the vast majority of countries – a guarantee that the product comes from the Champagne district in France. But sparkling wine purchased in Russia recently became an exception to that rule.

Russian ‘shampanskoye’

In July of 2021, President Vladimir Putin signed into law that only local Russian producers can call their sparkling wines ‘champagne’ in Russia, writes The Guardian.

Russian ‘champagne’ or ‘shampanskoye’, as it is known in Russia, stems back to the 1930s when Stalin set out to make the luxury drink available to the masses at a budget.

Sole rights to the appellation in Russia

With Putin’s new law, Russian winemakers are not only allowed to use the appellation ‘champagne’, it also demands that French champagne makers describe their product as ‘sparkling wine’ on the back of the bottle.

Going forward, only producers of Russian ‘shampanskoye’ are therefore allowed to use this appellation.  

Naturally, the new law has caused quite the stir in France.  

The exception that proves the rule

So why are the Russians suddenly allowed to call Russian-produced sparkling wine champagne?

The rules for protected appellations are set out in the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin from 1958, of which Russia is not a signatory.

120 other nations have, however, signed the agreement, and only wines from the Champagne district are therefore allowed to call their wines as such in these countries.

Putin is therefore free to make separate laws in this field in Russia and stipulate that the appellation ‘champagne’ may only be used for Russian-produced sparkling wines.

Grandfather clause

Rather interestingly, however, sparkling wines produced in Russia are not the only wines exempt from the protection of appellations of origin.

Another example is the Californian KORBEL CALIFORNIA CHAMPAGNE, for which the manufacturer has secured the right to use the name champagne. This right has been obtained through a special grandfather clause entered between the US and EU in 2006.

If you want to be sure to get your hands on genuine local specialties from protected designation of origin, the logos below can guide you. Read more about them on the European Commission’s website.

– See the list of geographical indications on the EUIPO website here

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