Russian labelling row dims New Year for French champagne

Paris (AFP) – French champagne producers will ring in 2022 with at least one hiccup -- starting Saturday, they must comply with a new Russian law prohibiting them from calling their bubbly by its Russian name, an affront that has infuriated the industry.


President Vladimir Putin signed the legislation in June, making it illegal for imported champagnes to use the Russian translation, "Shampanskoe," on their bottles.

French producers can still use the word in French, but will have to write "sparkling wine" in Cyrillic on the back of bottles -- a heresy for houses that claim nothing can match their unique splendour.

They have fought for years to safeguard their AOC, or Controlled Appellation of Origin, for exclusive worldwide use under the provisions of the 1958 Lisbon Agreement on distinctive geographical indications.

But Russia is among several countries -- including the United States -- that are not signatories, and talks aimed at convincing Moscow to repeal the law have failed so far.

In October, however, France managed to secure a two-month moratorium that would allow them to sell stocks already sent to Russia while removing "Shampanskoe" from their export labels.

"It allowed us to ensure that non-conforming bottles sent before July could be sold," the Comite Champagne industry body said in a statement.

Talks continue in the meantime, an official in the French trade ministry, who asked not to be identified by name, told AFP.

"We remain mobilised, with the European Commission, to keep working on this matter and defend our wine and spirits industry, including champagne," the official said.

Russia is the 15th-largest export market for French champagne, with 1.8 million bottles sold in the country in 2019 -- or 1.5 percent of overall sales.

But for the Comite Champagne, "it's a promising and high-value market."

"Russian consumers appreciate prestigious vintages and also enjoy champagne while visiting France," it said.