CHAMPAGNE, Switzerland The Swiss wine-growing
community of Champagne voted on Saturday to fight an attempt to
restrict use of the village's name to French wine.
In a traditional Swiss open-air vote, villagers said they
would push to continue using the name Champagne, limited under
international trade rules to the French sparkling wine region,
for their own produce.
A mechanical excavator decked with a French flag tore out
the sign bearing the name Champagne at the entrance of the
village in a symbolic protest at its loss of identity.
In Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union,
the Swiss government conceded in 1999 that the name Champagne
would be reserved for the famous French wine. The Swiss village
was given until 2004 to phase out the use of its name.
"In this village we no longer have the right to use our own
name," Thomas Bindschedler, spokesman of the village action
committee, told the public gathering.
"In a market where consumers are increasingly concerned
with the accountability of producers, that is fatal."
Bindschedler said village wine producers used to sell
110,000 bottles of wine. That fell to 32,000 last year after
the wine was sold under labels that made no reference to its
place of origin.
The villagers have been angered by a case passing through
the courts in Paris challenging the right of the local bakery
to sell biscuits labelled "Champagne recipe".
Villagers point out that the name of their community is
documented as far back as 885 and the first records of wine
being grown in the village date back to 1657.
Bindschedler said the village did not want to deprive the
makers of sparkling wine in France from using the Champagne
name. They just wanted the right to use their own name to show
the origin of their produce.
Protecting the place names for wines and other produce,
known as geographical indications or appellations, is surfacing
as a major issue in world trade talks in Geneva.
(Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Robert Woodward)