The Life of Wine

 |  September 30, 2013

The Champagne Wars

I have a completely unfounded suspicion that the recent kerfuffle over America adding Syria to its long list of bad ideas in the Middle East may in fact be a smokescreen. A cunning diversion to take the eyes of the world off a much more serious situation, the battle lines of which are currently being drawn by the world’s biggest corporation and a bunch of grape-growers just east of Paris.

Apple, Inc. is going where so many other companies have gone to get their arses kicked. And it’s all to do with one two syllable word: champagne. The very naughty people at Apple have described a new gold coloured iPhone as “champagne.” To be fair, I’ve seen a picture of one and I can see where Apple is coming from. Also, iPhone Champagne is a far classier name than iPhone Taupe or iPhone Beige. And that’s sort of the point. The protectionist Champenoise are all too aware just how much the word champagne is worth when marketing highly desirable goods. 

Now, the Yanks may have referred to the French as cheese-eating surrender monkeys on a couple of occasions, but make no mistake America, when it comes to a perceived attack on wine – or indeed cheese, for that matter – every Frenchman will down tools (if not already on strike or holiday), hoist the Tricolore and start humming La Marseillaise with his hand on his heart. Those boyhood dreams of joining the French Foreign Legion will return to his mind (along with the memory of having those dreams shattered by dad telling him no Frenchman can actually fight with the Foreign Legion) and he will march forth to defend la belle France in a way members of the Resistance probably hoped a few more of their countrymen could have done when it mattered.

When it comes to Apple grappling the word champagne from the French, resistance is likely to be found from the government and the European Union, but the real hardcore anti-collaborators, to overstretch the analogy, are the Comite Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne.

Yves Saint Laurent, who one thinks might have been given a tiny bit of slack when it came to using a French name, was told in no uncertain terms by the CIVC where he would be made to  stick his perfume if he ever tried to add the moniker “champagne” to a single bottle. Even Perrier, another renowned French brand that could be described as the mineral water equivalent of champagne (what with it being French and fizzy), was hammered for trying to get away with using the strapline: “the champagne of 

mineral waters.”

The war over the use of the word champagne  between the French and Americans – actually referred to as the Champagne Wars – has been going on for decades. For those not quite up to speed on the subject, I will be giving a tedious lecture on trade agreements between North America and what is now the European Union to the security guard at my condo at some point in the early hours of one day next week, and you are all welcome. For those unable to make it, most recently the European Union pretty much told US wine producers good luck in trying to sell a single bottle in Europe if they didn’t keep their hands off various wine terms such as chateau, Chablis, clos, classic and, of course, champagne. 

The Yanks have tentatively agreed, something someone at Apple should perhaps have been told. Perhaps they were told; perhaps they just don’t give a toss. But, as with any agreement with the US, it hasn’t quite worked out as it should have. At President Obama’s inauguration luncheon earlier this year, the term champagne was misused on the menu when describing the Californian sparkler being served to the assembled guests. This didn’t go down well with the French, who thought the issue had already been sorted out. The situation almost elevated to camembert being thrown out of the creche when the Champagne Bureau, Washington’s champagne lobby, was told by the luncheon organisers to “have a glass of their own product and relax.” 

Perhaps it was appropriate that Obama was toasting his inaugural breakfast with Californian fizz, because the champagne bubbles in his mouth were about as genuine as the words that came out of it (insert cymbal crash here).

Anyway, Apple – a company well known for rabidly protecting its own intellectual property interests – is unlikely to get an easy ride if it decides to push ahead with the iPhone Champagne. But, as America is one of the biggest consumers of champagne on the planet, perhaps that small group of wine growers just outside Paris might consider a small concession to the mobile phone giant. Pas question!