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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

Champagne is mounting a major campaign, Origin Matters', to protect the identity and integrity of its AOC and prohibit the use of Champagne' as a semi-generic in the US. The attack is being launched on two fronts: a high-profile advertising campaign in US publications such as The Economist, New Yorker and Wine Spectator, and intensive lobbying in Brussels and Strasbourg, New York and Washington. CIVC communications director Daniel Lorson told Harpers that current negotiations on a US-EU wine agreement afforded a favourable window' to reach a settlement on a subject that has long set Champenois teeth on edge. CIVC estimates that in the US, sales of semi-generic Champagne' outnumber sales of Champagne by roughly two to one. Lorson was keen to portray the project as part of the bigger picture' of intellectual property rights, and stressed that many other Old World appellation' names, from Chablis and Sherry to Parmesan and Stilton, were also at stake. Champagne hopes that US acceptance will be eased by the growth of its own geographical indication system (American Viticultural Areas), as well as by the prospect of greater access to the expanding EU market through the mutual recognition of winemaking practices. The current derogation on some US winemaking practices expires on 31 December 2003, and Champagne supposes that the US will want a more permanent settlement to replace it. Lorson said that a US ban on semi-generics would also be a decisive step towards global acceptance' of appellation integrity. The advertising campaign is designed to persuade rather than patronise, pillory or preach - more in the spirit of Champagne for your real friends' than real pain for your sham friends'. The ads take the form of bookmark teasers', with rhetorical questions such as Florida oranges from Maine?' and Washington apples from Nevada?', leading up to Champagne not from Champagne?' and a full-page statement of the case. As part of the attempt to drive home the message that Champagne is a region rather than a style, Lorson and other leading industry figures in the region say they will consider Tom Stevenson's suggestion in last year's Harpers Champagne supplement that all bottles should carry a compulsory map on the back label.