Swiss Champagne village fights to reclaim use of name
More than 100 residents gather together to challenge French objections to retain village name on biscuit labels.9 April 2008
CHAMPAGNE - Residents of the tiny Swiss village of Champagne, banned from putting the village name on their wine due to French objections, protested the rule on Saturday with a tractor and a bottle of bubbly.
More than 100 members of the village gathered at a signpost marked "Champagne." They jeered as a tractor with a French flag and a bottle of French champagne scooped up the signpost and laid it on the ground -- all part of a protest they staged.
A type-written sign hung on a tree in the village read "Original depuis 885," or "original since 885." The sign evoked official records which show that the Swiss village has been in existence for over a thousand years.
Local wine-makers have been banned from labelling their wine "vin du Champagne" since 2004, after a deal was struck between the European Union and Switzerland. The village, which has 713 inhabitants, shares a name with the famous French wine-producing region.
Villagers decided to intensify their fight against the rule following a recent attempt by their counterparts in the French Champagne region to stop the village's bakery from putting "recipe from Champagne" on its biscuit labels.
"We are not only talking about law enforcement. We are talking about people who live here, who are born here, whose families have been living here for centuries, they have been making wine here," said Thomas Bindschedler, spokesman of a village committee set up to fight France's challenge.
"It's not a question of money but a question of identity."
In exchange for Swissair's air rights in the EU, the Swiss government acquiesced to the French Champagne wine-makers' request that the Swiss Champagne village will no longer label its name on its wine.
Wine from the village has since been re-labelled as wine from "Libre-Champ".
But as a result of the ban in place since 2004, Bindschedler said wine sales tumbled from 110,000 bottles in 2000 to just 32,000 now.
"In this village, we no longer have the right to use our name, in a market where consumers are more and more concerned about the traceability of their products, it's fatal," he said.
Villagers also point out that records indicate wine production in the region started as early as the Middle Ages.
The village's winemakers filed suit to reclaim the use of its name with the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, but were rejected in August 2007.
The mayor of the village, Marc-Andre Cornu, also owns the local bakery that produces the contested biscuits. He told AFP his business would suffer an immediate drop of EUR 500,000 in sales should the French manage to stop it from labelling its biscuits "Champagne recipe".
The bakery was created by his grandfather in 1934 and employs about 80
The village's oldest wine-maker, 96-year-old Paul Banderet, who started working in his vineyard when he was 12, described the rule as "a shame".
"It's shameful to have to be subject to something like that," he told AFP, saying that it was a "humiliation" for wine-makers in the region to have to change their labels.
He said the wine made in the village is sold in the region and "we are not competing with them (the French)".
"There is not a single litre of wine that leaves this canton or the region. I don't know what the French are thinking," he said.
[AFP / Expatica]