Only Wines Made in Russia Can Be Called Champagne Under New Putin Law
French imports made in Champagne must now be labeled as "sparkling wine" in Russia.
At the risk of oversimplifying generations of geopolitics, Russia has always been a bit of a rabble-rouser. Sometimes, those actions have serious ramifications — like when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 against the will of the international community. But other times, Russia seems to be acting almost purely as an agitator — like on Friday, when President Vladimir Putin signed a new law decreeing that only sparkling wine made in Russia can be labeled as Champagne.
As possibly France's most famous appellation, people sometimes debate when "Champagne" should be capitalized or not. But under Russia's new rule, don't call that French stuff "Shampanskoye" — the Russian word for "Champagne" — at all. Instead, imports from France must simply bear the words "sparkling wine." If you want to call your fizz "Shampanskoye," it has to be produced on Russian soil.
On Saturday, Moët Hennessy threatened to stop sending their bubbly to Russia altogether, according to The Guardian; however, by Monday, the producer was reportedly shipping in bottles with fresh "sparkling wine" labels, hoping to maintain their 1 million liter share of the 6.5 million liters of actual Champagne Russia imports every year. "The Moët Hennessy champagne houses have always respected the law in place wherever they operate and will restart deliveries as soon as it is able to make the [label] changes," they were quoted as saying.
Still, the Comité Champagne — which promotes the interests of Champagne worldwide — was understandably not happy, emphasizing that not only was Russia coopting the "Champagne" label for their own use, but also stripping it from products that actually originate in an area called Champagne. "Depriving the people of Champagne the right to use their name is scandalous. It's our common heritage and the apple of our eye," Maxime Toubart and Jean-Marie Barillère, co-presidents of the organization, stated. "The Champagne name is protected in more than 120 countries."
So why not in Russia? Well, bringing the discussion full circle, media speculation is that the move is intended to boost the wine industry in Crimea — an area known for its sparkling wine production. French newspaper Le Monde also reportedly suggested that move could be both personally and financially motivated, pointing out that billionaire Yuri Kovalchuk, a close Putin associate, owns wineries in the region.