Champagne vs. ‘Champagne’

Markus Hungerbühler reports from Switzerland on the Swiss Federal Supreme Court’s rejection of the Protected Designation of Origin ‘AOC Commune de Champagne’.

In March 2022, another case concerning the use of the designation ‘Champagne’ for wine from the municipality of Champagne in the Canton Vaud in Switzerland ended. The Federal Supreme Court, the highest court of the country, terminated the dispute on formal grounds, thus leaving the attacked judgement by the Constitutional Court of the Canton Vaud in force – meaning that the name ‘AOC Commune de Champagne’ cannot be used by Swiss vignerons. 

In January 2021, the government of the Canton Vaud introduced a PDO ‘AOC Commune de Champagne’ for still white wines of the Chasselas grape grown in the municipality of Champagne. This amendment was challenged by the Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne before the Constitutional Court of the Canton Vaud. The Comité argued that the new PDO contradicted the exclusive protection for the designation ‘Champagne’ for wines originating from France granted by Switzerland’s bilateral agreement of 1999 with the European Union on trade in agricultural products. 


Strong protection of ‘Champagne’

The Constitutional Court of the Canton Vaud concluded that the exclusive protection had its effect against any use of the designation ‘Champagne’ for wines not originating in the French Champagne region. Consequently, it annulled the PDO ‘AOC Commune de Champagne’. Applying the agreement of 1999, the court did not have to refer to the bilateral agreement between Switzerland and France of 1974 on the protection designations of origin, which also covers the designation ‘Champagne’.


Another futile attempt

The introduction of this PDO ‘AOC Commune de Champagne’ by the government of the Canton Vaud was strongly supported by the municipality of Champagne and an interest group called Communauté de la vigne et du vin de la Commune de Champagne. According to the Fédération vaudoise des vignerons, the president of the Communauté showed himself disappointed about the decision of the Constitutional Court since wine has been produced for centuries in the municipality of Champagne. 

The introduction of the PDO ‘AOC Commune de Champagne’ was again a futile attempt in a longstanding conflict to use the designation ‘Champagne’ for wines from the municipality of Champagne. The decisions of these courts made it once again clear that this designation cannot be used, whether on the label of a Swiss wine or in a PDO, on the basis of the existing legal situation.