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CHAMPAGNE

Champagne awarded World Heritage status

The historic vineyards and wine cellars of the Champagne region, where the world's most famous sparkling wines are produced, as well as Burgundy vineyards were listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO on Saturday.

Champagne awarded World Heritage status
A champagne vineyard in Villenauxe-la-Grande, near Epernay, eastern France. Photo: Alain Julien/AFP

In a double victory for French wine, corks were also popping in Burgundy after its vineyards were crowned with the same prestigious distinction by the UN cultural body in the German city of Bonn.
   
It picked out the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, where the grand houses sit atop miles of cavernous cellars where millions of bottles of bubbly are aged.
   
There was special mention too of the village of Hautvilliers, in whose abbey as legend has it the monk Dom Perignon first invented the double fermentation technique that gives champagne its fizz.
   
UNESCO said the champagne world heritage status covers “the places sparkling wine was developed using a second fermentation method in the bottle from the beginning of the 17th century until its early industrialisation in the 19th century.”
   
The rolling hills of the northern French Champagne region, where the grapes for the sought-after wine are grown, already contain some of the most expensive agricultural land in Europe.
 
But inclusion on UNESCO's vaunted list can bring further economic benefits, because as well as being a powerful tourist draw, world heritage sites are eligible for financial assistance towards preservation.
   
In Burgundy, UNESCO recognised the uniqueness of the vineyards of the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune south of the city Dijon which produce some of the finest red wines in the world made from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.

The “grand crus” from this region, such as Romanee-Conti, Vosne-Romanee and Montrachet, are also among the most expensive.
 
 “Champagne and Burgundy are two splendid French regions, which show what France does best,” the country's ambassador to UNESCO, Philippe Lalliot, told AFP.

The Paris-based body also granted the status to two sites in Iran — the troglodyte settlements of Maymand and the ancient city of Susa — as well as Singapore's Botanical Gardens and the Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain sacred landscape in Mongolia.

The Diyarbakir Fortress in the southeast of Turkey —  a major stronghold in the “Fertile Crescent” since the time of Alexander the Great — was also listed as well as the ancient system of irrigated fields called the Hevsel Gardens that link the city to the River Tigris and have fed its inhabitants for thousands of years.
   
The World Heritage Committee meeting in Bonn until July 8 was also considering giving the distinction to the legendary Alamo battleground in Texas, having already rubberstamped the Tusi tribal mountain landscape of southwest China, the Arab-Norman architects of Palermo in Sicily, and 10,000-year-old rock art in Saudi Arabia.

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CHAMPAGNE

French Champagne makers threaten boycott of Russia over ‘sparkling wine’ label

Russian elites could soon find themselves without their favourite French bubbles if Moet Hennessy makes good on a threat to halt champagne supplies following a new law signed by President Vladimir Putin.

French Champagne makers threaten boycott of Russia over 'sparkling wine' label
Russian lawmakers adopted legislation saying the word "champagne" can only be applied to wine produced in Russia. Photo: Alexander NEMENOV / AFP.

Moet Hennessy’s Russia office warned local partners it was suspending supplies after Russian lawmakers adopted legislation stipulating that the word “champagne” can only be applied to wine produced in Russia, while the world-famous tipple from France’s Champagne region should be called “sparkling wine”.

Leonid Rafailov, general director of AST, a top liquor distributor which works with a number of brands including Moet Hennessy, said on Saturday his firm had received a letter from the French company notifying it of the suspension.

“I confirm that such a letter exists, and it is justified,” Rafailov told AFP.

He said that in accordance with the legislation – signed off on by Putin on Friday – the company would have to undergo new registration procedures, among other requirements.

Sebastien Vilmot, Moet Hennessy managing director in Russia, declined to speak to AFP.

But in a statement released through Rafailov, Vilmot called the suspension a “temporary” measure before a solution could be found.

Moet Hennessy is part of French luxury goods group LVMH and known for such brands as Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon.

The French are fiercely protective of the term “champagne”, and it can only be made in the French region of the same name.

A copy of Moet Hennessy’s letter was first published on social media on Friday by a representative of a Moscow-based liquor importer and distributor.

Drinks market expert Vadim Drobiz suggested the legislation was open to interpretation but added that Moet Hennessy’s share of the Russian market was relatively small and well-heeled clients could find a replacement.

“If there is no Moet, there won’t be a state coup and Russian elites will not commit suicide,” Drobiz quipped.

But wine consultant Anna Chernyshova questioned the purpose of the amendments. “My phone has been ringing off the hook,” she said. “Me and my clients are thinking what to do next.”

Chernyshova, who helps people build wine collections, said she was not sure why the Russian parliament had passed such a law. “How will they walk back on it?” she told AFP. “So many officials love this champagne.”

Social media was abuzz with jokes, with wits making fun of the latest piece of Russian legislation. “Now it’s necessary to ban Scots and Americans from using the word “whisky”, joked restaurateur Sergei Mironov.

Popular singer Vasya Oblomov said Russian lawmakers could now adopt similar legislation regulating the use of the name “Mercedes” and even place names.

“I thought it was a joke,” wrote Putin’s self-exiled critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “I was wrong.”

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