‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Makers of perfumes, sodas or even condoms who hope to add fizz to their products by labelling them 'Champagne' quickly find out that it's risky to take the name of the world's most famous bubbly in vain.

'The price of glory' - Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name
Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

The powerful CIVC association, which groups the famed eastern French region’s 16,200 growers and 360 brands, tracks anyone in the world who hijacks the Champagne name.

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

“It’s the price of glory,” said Roxane de Varine-Bohan, one of five lawyers at the Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wine (CIVC) looking after brand protection.

The body has hunted down countless samples of products using the Champagne name over the decades.

Charles Goemaere, CEO of the Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wine (CIVC). Photo by FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI / AFP

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

One high-profile dispute erupted in June when Russia turned the tables on France by passing a law that says only Russian bubbly can be called “Champagne”, while French Champagne has to be labelled “sparkling wine”.

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

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

The CIVC is planning to bring a civil suit against the drink’s distributor while trying to locate its producer.

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

Around 120 nations officially recognise the Champagne name as copyrighted including China “which protects it very well”, said Goemaere.

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

“But we’ll get there,” he added.

The recognition of Champagne as a protected designation of origin dates back to 1936.

But even as long ago as 1843, a group of Champagne growers won a court order preventing Touraine growers in central France from using the label.

Most of the hunt for offenders goes on discreetly, but occasionally there are high-profile cases such as when the Yves Saint Laurent fashion group had to change the name of its “Champagne” perfume.

“We accomplish painstaking work against the hijacking of our name. Nothing can stop us,” Varine-Bohan said.

Not even a village in Switzerland called Champagne that claimed it should be allowed to market its wines using its own name – the CIVC filed a lawsuit and obtained, thanks to Swiss-EU accords, a ban on the Swiss Champagne challenge.

British sweets and a German cola drink, both called champagne, also never stood a chance against the CICV’s wrath.

The association relies on a network established by Champagne houses in 10 countries as well as 70 law firms across the world for its intelligence.

But the bulk of tip-offs comes from champagne drinkers who won’t stand for their favourite tipple’s name being misappropriated.

They account for some 80 percent of cases, said Goemaere.

As long as champagne enjoys worldwide fame, “there’s money to be made” from stealing its name, he sighed.

“Our work is never done.”

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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?