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Jaffa Oranges from Siberia…?

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Jaffa Oranges from Siberia…?

12 July 2021

The wine industry is somewhat taken aback by the recent amendment to Russia’s Federal Law ‘On State Regulation of Production and Turnover of Alcoholic Products’ (the “Law”), which requires non-Russian producers of champagne who wish to sell their wares in the Russian Federation to label their product as “sparkling wine” rather than “champagne”, which appellation (in the Russian form “champanskoye” Шампанкое) can now only be used by Russian wineries. The Law will also allow Russian distilleries which comply with certain technical requirements to brand their product “Cognac of Russia”(Коньяк России). The latter provision will only come into effect in seven years’ time, when the first batch of Russian-grown grapes will have been sufficiently aged to comply with such requirements. This designation can only be used on beverages produced solely from grapes grown within the Russian Federation.

The Cognac of Russia concept is less troubling than the relegation of true champagne – the king of sparkling wines – to the same level as cava, or Lambrusco, which makes connoisseurs shudder. Legally speaking, this pulls the rug out from under the concept of appellations of origin as we know it; for the non-lawyers, the quality or characteristics of a product protected by an appellation of origin must result exclusively or essentially from its geographical origin (as explained by WIPO here). Examples of appellations of origin (other than champagne…) include Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; Parma Ham, Roquefort cheese, and Jaffa oranges.  The notion of a Russian wine, no matter how fine it is, being called champagne, while the original French beverage is stripped of its rank, is mind boggling.

Although the Russian Federation is not a member of the Lisbon Treaty on the Protection of Appellations of Origins, it was required, upon accession to the World Trade Organization, to implement protection of geographical indications in its national laws. This was done through the Russian Federation’s Civil Code rather than by accession to the Lisbon Treaty. Whether the manner in which the Russian Federation chose to do this is in full compliance with the WTO and TRIPS is not entirely clear, but this new amendment to the Law gives a unique flavor to the Russian concept of geographical indications (and, specifically, appellations of origin).

President Putin’s signing this bill into law has certainly made waves, with Moët & Chandon even briefly flirting with the idea of suspending importation of their champagne into Russia. Only time will tell if this is a significant development or a storm in a wineglass. Let’s plan to revisit this question over a snifter of Cognac of Russia in the year 2028…

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