The Fight for French Champagne

3rd June 2016

The Fight for French Champagne

On May 31st at the inaugaration of the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux French President Francois Hollande defended his country’s AOC system for wines. This was in the context of the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area , (TAFTA), negotiations with the United States. He said that France wouldn’t sacrifice it to get an agreement.

Champagne has the AOC designation.It’s protected from fraud almost worldwide. The United States is one of the few remaining countries where this isn’t quite the case.

It was only in 2005 that the US agreed to a ban on the illegal use of the word Champagne on bottles of American sparkling wine. There was though a grandfather clause for wineries who were making sparkling wine before the agreement was signed.

In 2009 the US Champagne Bureau began a campaign to protect the Champagne name. They wanted truth-in labelling. Their slogan is, ‘Champagne Only Comes From Champagne, France’.

The White House though didn’t seem to have heard the message. Korbel , one one of the wineries grandfathered in 2005 , provided the champagne for President Obama’s inaugural luncheon in 2013. This caused an uproar throughout the French Champagne industry.

It was also in 2013 that the TAFTA negotiations began between the US and the European Union. Information about the content of the behind closed door talks has slowly trickled out. It has become clear recently that the US won’t recognize the AOC designation for wine or food. They also refuse to stop using the name champagne as well as those of 16 other European wines. The US doesn’t believe in the idea of terroir or geographical identification. Products there are protected by trademarks.

The US can’t export their Champagne to France now because of the AOC system. If this disappears we could get what is generally agreed to be an inferior product flooding into the French market.

Jacques Krabal, mayor of Chateau Thierry in the Champagne making area of the Aisne has declared the town a TAFTA free zone. He may not have to worry. The negotiations due to be concluded by the end of 2013 are said to be in stalemate. Some experts believe a treaty won’t ever be signed. If this is the case the Champagne industry will heave a collective sigh of relief.


Jon Catt

Tour guide for the Champagne region who lives in Troyes. Specialising in family run Champagne house visits in the Aube and the Marne plus wine tours in the Yonne and Côte d'Or.