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Champagne enforcers chase 1,000 cases per year

A Californian spring water company is the latest to draw the ire of Champagne’s ruling council, which claims to investigate up to 1,000 potential breaches of the region’s protected name status every year.

Beverly Hills Drink Co recently removed a reference to its Beverly Hills 9OH2O brand as the ‘Champagne of waters’ from its website, after receiving a written warning from the Champagne council, the CIVC.

‘The phrase was actually coined by our fans and members of the media,’ said Beverly Hills’ chief executive, Jon Gluck. ‘Once we received the CIVC’s letter, we immediately stopped using it,’ he told decanter.com, adding the group never intended to suggest its product came from France’s premier sparkling wine region.

The case is another example of the trade body’s lawyers watching closely for any potential abuse of Champagne’s protected name status.

The CIVC won a bigger case against another water brand, Perrier, in 1987. Last month, the group was believed to be watching Apple, which had been rumoured to be preparing the launch of a ‘Champagne’ coloured iPhone. In the end, Apple used the term gold.

CIVC handles around 1,000 cases of this kind every year, Thibaut Le Mailloux, a spokesperson for the body, told decanter.com. While the group does not discuss specific offenders, he said that it also ‘closes’ 600 cases annually.

Targets range from sparkling wine brands in countries that don’t recognise Champagne’s protection as a Geographical Indication to more unusual items, such as shampoo for dogs and even toilet brushes. Non-wine products can still harm the image of the Champagne brand, the CIVC argues.

‘Some cases have been opened 20 years ago, and some two weeks ago. It’s daily work for us,’ Le Mailloux said. ‘Some just require an email, and then we receive a response and it goes well,’ he said. ‘The majority of cases are solved without the public knowing about it.’

Non-wine products may be targeted, but Le Mailloux said ‘the key difficulty that we experience is the naming of local sparkling wines’. He highlighted Russia, the US, Argentina and Vietnam as markets where CIVC lawyers are most active in challenging local brands.

A significant moment came in May this year, when authorities in China agreed to recognise Champagne’s protected status, increasing producers’ legal muscle in an important emerging market.

As Champagne producers stretch their reach beyond traditional countries and regions, the CIVCs job could expand further.

Le Mailloux cautioned that most cases don’t involve court action. ‘We don’t send in the lawyers from day one,’ he said. ‘We want to educate.’

Written by Chris Mercer

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