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Putin ignites Champagne war with France

Just when you thought 2021 couldn’t jump another shark, Vladimir Putin has signed a decree that only Russian bubbles can be called “Champagne”. The French stuff must be labelled as “sparkling wine” when exported to the Soviet Union.

Russian ‘Champagne’, produced in southern regions such as Krasnodar and Rostov, was created during the 1930s to ensure a version of the “elite” wine was available for all citizens to drink. Some bottles retail for as little as $5.

Russia currently imports around 50 million litres of sparkling wine each year, of which 13% is French Champagne. While it only ranks 15th in the world in terms of the number of Champagne bottles it imports – Australia is 7th – it’s an important market for France because Russians buy expensive vintages.

France is fiercely protective of its appellations. About 120 countries including Australia respect its rules, which restrict the “champagne” designation to sparkling wines made under specific conditions in the Champagne region. France’s government said on Tuesday it may refer Russia to the World Trade Organisation over the decision.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “We will act in the coming days with Russian authorities, on the bilateral and European level, to defend our producers’ interests and above all the interests of our geographical indications.

“If there are more blatant violations of the World Trade Organization rules, then we will move ahead, as we have already considered doing with Russia. I hope that dialogue will allow us to resolve this problem.”

“Denying the Champenois the right to use the name ‘champagne’ in Cyrillic is scandalous: it is our common heritage and the apple of our eye,” added Maxime Toubart and Jean-Marie Barillere, co-presidents of France’s Champagne Committee.

“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.”

Even Russian wine companies are flummoxed by the ruling. Pavel Titov, president of Russian sparkling wine maker Abrau-Durso told Radio France Internationale (that his firm does not have sparkling wines that would be called “champagne” in its portfolio and said he hoped the issue would be resolved in favour of global norms and standards.

“It is very important to protect the Russian wines on our market,” he said. “But the legislation must be reasonable and not contradict common sense … I have no doubts that the real champagne is made in the Champagne region of France.”

Moet Hennessy has temporarily suspended exports to Russia as it scrambles to meet the new laws. The company sells the Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon champagnes in Russia.

“The MH Champagne Maisons have always respected the legislation in force wherever they operate, and will resume deliveries as quickly as possible once these adjustments are made,” it said in a statement.

The centuries-old relationship between Russia and France spans wars, revolutions and a deep appreciation of Champagne. Read more at Wine Enthusiast.

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