In foodie news from across the pond, France is increasing the number of territories that may produce sparkling wine bearing the name “Champagne.” Any bubbly with that name must come from the Champagne region of France, the location of which is determined by an agency. Local vintners are lobbying to be included in the region; those who are not included often cannot even sell their spirits under the “sparkling wine” label reserved for carbonated white wine not grown in Champagne, but are prohibited from selling it at all:
Now, he cannot sell his wine because he is in a larger “zone of production” that bans any wine except Champagne from being made. The plan would redraw the zone’s borders to eliminate Serval and other communes.
Mr. Mousseaux could then sell his product as “vin mousseux,” sparkling wine.
The purpose of a trademark – or a geographical indications – is to indicate to consumers that products are of a certain, consistent level of quality. If Champagne is no better than sparkling wine grown in adjacent regions (much as some California sparkling wines are as good as some Champagnes), consumers will purchase accordingly. If, however, the Champagne designation does indicate a higher-quality grape, consumers will pay for it, regardless of the presence or absence of alternatives grown in nearby regions. Either way, the market will reach the correct result; the government-induced blockade does nothing to improve the sparkling wine market from the perspective of the consumer: it amounts to a government-imposed quasi-monopoly for those fortunate enough to be favoured by the government.
“Nothing is quantified and amazingly, no minimum requirements have been set,” Mr. Stevenson wrote in his analysis. “This is how and where it could all go pear-shaped, because Champagne’s continued success depends on maintaining its reputation, which is already under threat due to the bad timing of its expansion.”
What a fabulous way to determine standards for international commerce.
Not only does France determine the “Champagne” designation without clear, articulated standards, its committee is composed of unknown members, and regions may lose the designation each time the area is reevaluated. This is not quality control so much as cost control and the creation of an artificial monopoly.