It’s Only Champagne if it’s Made in Russia

If it's made in France, it's "sparkling wine."

NPR (“France And Russia Are In A Tussle Over Who Gets To Call Champagne … ‘Champagne'”):

In a chilly windowless basement in this provincial French city, workers stack bottles of bubbly. Not just any bubbly, but le vrai champagne, which thanks to a special protected status can only be made in the Champagne region of eastern France.

“A lot of people want to use the name,’ says Marie Genand, a lawyer for the Comité Champagne, which oversees production and trade for the Champagne region’s 15,000 winemakers.

But in a deft display of soft power, one world leader is putting centuries of French tradition to the test.

In early July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law reserving the use of the word champagne in the Russian market for sparkling wines produced in Russia.

Imported French champagne can no longer call itself…champagne.

“We were shocked,” said Genand of the new Russian law.

But for now, many French champagne producers are caving in.


Others, like fifth-generation champagne maker Marie Collard, are undecided.

“I can understand the Russians wanting to defend their own sparkling wine,” Collard said. “But the word champagne belongs to this region, we hold it close to our hearts.”


“It’s also about respect for our ancestors,” Collard said. “If the name champagne has any value today, it’s because we have incredibly strict production rules in Champagne which cannot be compared to vineyards elsewhere.”


“You need the ground, you need the climate, you need people working and learning how to work with the grapes for ages from their parents and grandparents!” Hardy said. “You can’t just decide to make champagne outside of Champagne, it’s not your call.”

While one understands the French insistence on the exclusive use of the name, it long since became generic. While the EU limits the use of the appellation to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region (inadvertently launching an Internet meme in the process) not everyone goes along with it. In the United States, winemakers (including some famous for cheap wines sold in jugs) are allowed to call their sparkling wines “Champagne” if they were doing so before 2005, so long as they make clear it’s not a product of France. So, supermarket brands like Korbel, Cook’s, and André are allowed to label their products “California Champagne” and in fact do so.

Russia’s calling its sparkling wines “champagne” does not, therefore, bother me in the least so long as they’re not engaging in deceptive marketing practices. And, indeed, there’s actually a long tradition of their doing so:

Russians are equally proud of their product, which even though the Soviet Union is long gone is still sold as “Soviet Champagne.”

The idea for Kremlin champagne goes back to the days of Joseph Stalin, who in 1936 acted to provide sparkling wine to the Soviet masses, dramatically increasing local production to millions of bottles a year.

Still, reserving the sole right to the name—and requiring French producers to use a different name!—is so positively Soviet as to make Pavel Chekov and Yakov Smirnoff proud.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Europe, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JohnMcC says:

    Really!? Stalin wanted Soviet citizens to enjoy the best in sparkling wines?

    You just can’t get stranger than facts. (Always assuming that it’s true. And I’m not gonna take the time to find out. Just enjoy.)

  2. gVOR08 says:

    We’ll of course only Russian champagne can be called “champagne”, they invented it. You mentioned Chekhov. Didn’t Star Trek do a running thing with the “a Russian invented it” thing?

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Trump would have made a great Russian. Cruel, thuggish, eternally third-rate and desperate for more approval than is deserved.

  4. dazedandconfused says:

    I doubt this is based in the old Soviet mode of state imaging. It’s probably another of Russian’s clumsy protectionism attempts. Try to make the imported French booze look less attractive on the shelves to Russian buyers.

    Russia casts about trying to fix the fundamental flaw of their economy: Their people are spending their wealth importing stuff instead of buying Russian-made. They are trying to figure out how to be successful capitalists and thereby need some form of protectionism still. Apparently tariffs were not enough incentive for the people to prefer Russian garbage over French champaign.

    Stalinism did an enormous amount of damage to their national psych and internal industries. Decades later, still a heavy lift. They have oodles of talent and natural resources out the wazzoo, but it takes so much more than that to start making quality stuff at a decent price.

    Half-assed protectionism is perhaps all they can think possible at the moment. Nevertheless it indicates some sense of accountability to their people. Baby steps…

  5. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnMcC: in tthe limited study I’ve had in things Stalinist, it seems to me that Stalin wanted Soviet citizens to have the best everything. It’s the degree to which he succeeded that’s the subject of debate.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: There’s enough double-entendre there to have me spinning in circles til I get dizzy, like a little boy. My thought was that before Operation Barbarossa, Stalin wanted Soviet citizens to enjoy loads of open space, like Americans do. So he emptied it.