From condoms to cola: champagne police blow up cork for name theft


Manufacturers of perfumes, sodas or even condoms who hope to sparkle their products by labeling them “Champagne” quickly realize that it is risky to take in vain the name of the most famous bubbles in the world.

The powerful association of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), which brings together 16,200 winegrowers and 360 brands from the famous region of eastern France, hunts down anyone in the world who misappropriates the name of Champagne.

According to the laws in France, the EU and elsewhere, the label can only be used for sparkling wines produced in their precisely defined part of the country.

Photo: AFP

“This is the price of fame,” said Roxane de Varine-Bohan, one of the five CIVC lawyers who deals with trademark protection.

The organization has tracked down countless samples of products using the Champagne name over the decades.

Helped by the French government, and increasingly by foreign authorities, the association handles around 1,000 cases in 80 countries every year.

A high-profile dispute erupted in June when Russia turned the tide against France by passing a law that says only Russian champagne can be called “champagne”, while French champagne is to be labeled “sparkling wine.”

Three French ministers have since written to their Russian counterparts demanding a suspension of the new law, CIVC boss Charles Goemaere said, adding he hoped for a response this month.

Also in June, customs services at the port of Le Havre, in northern France, seized 750 bottles of a cola drink labeled “Couronne Fruit Champagne” which had been ordered from Haiti by a Parisian restaurant.

The CIVC plans to take civil action against the distributor of the drink while trying to locate its producer.

“Our goal is not to win damages, but to ban the use of the Champagne name for this product which is sold in the French Caribbean and South America,” said Varine-Bohan.


About 120 countries officially recognize Champagne’s name as copyrighted, including China “which protects it very well,” Goemaere said.

Others still won’t play ball, he said, including the United States, Russia, Belarus and Haiti.

“But we will get there,” he added.

The recognition of Champagne as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée dates back to 1936.

But as early as 1843, a group of Champagne winegrowers obtained a court ruling prohibiting Touraine winegrowers in central France from using the label.

The hunt for offenders is done largely discreetly, but sometimes cases ring out such as when the fashion group Yves Saint Laurent had to change the name of its perfume “Champagne”.

“We are doing meticulous work against the misappropriation of our name. Nothing can stop us, ”said Varine-Bohan.

Not even a village in Switzerland called Champagne which claimed that it should be allowed to market its wines under its own name – the CIVC lodged a complaint and obtained, thanks to the Switzerland-EU agreements, a ban on challenging Swiss champagne. .

British candy and a German cola, both called champagne, also never stood a chance against the wrath of the CICV.

The association relies on a network made up of Champagne Houses in 10 countries as well as 70 law firms around the world for its intelligence.

But most of the denunciations come from champagne drinkers who will not tolerate the name of their favorite drink being misused.

They represent about 80% of cases, Goemaere said.

As long as champagne enjoys worldwide fame, “there is money to be made” by stealing its name, he sighs.

“Our work is never done.

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