Bouchons de Champagne

The Champagne designation

Champagne, an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (controlled designation of origin/AOC)


29 June 1936: a red-letter day for the Champagne designation

Although the Champagne controlled designation of origin (AOC) wasn't recognised until 1936, defence of the Champagne designation by its producers goes back much further than that. A bit of history! 

From the mid-19th century, Champagne makers began rallying together to defend Champagne against imitations and misuse by other sparkling wine producers who sought to free-ride on the reputation of the Champagne designation to promote their wines unfairly. The AOC concept did not exist at this juncture. 

The Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) trade association was founded in 1941. One of its founding roles was the protection of the Champagne designation worldwide. At its founding, it primarily took action against sparkling wines that used the Champagne designation without the right to do so, mainly because they did not come from the geographical area defined. But the Comité Champagne also makes sure that Champagne producers comply with the production process of the Champagne designation. Thanks to both these actions, consumers are assured that they are drinking proper Champagne which meets the standards of excellence to which it can legitimately lay claim.  

The Champagne designation

Since there is such prestige surrounding the name "Champagne", many competitors try to take unfair advantage of its reputation and image. In the mid 1980s, the Comité Champagne began lobbying to strengthen protection of the name "Champagne". Henceforth, any unfair use that trades off the reputation of Champagne is banned, including outside the wine industry.

Thanks to the Comité Champagne’s daily dedication to the cause, the Champagne designation is now recognised and protected in more than 121 countries

Paysage de vignes

What is an appellation d’origine?

Designations of origin protect the names of some agricultural products, guaranteeing compliance with a defined geographical area and strict specifications referring to traditional know-how. As such, "terroir" is a fundamental aspect of such a designation.

The appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin/AOC) was established in 1935. This sets the rules governing the making of a product on French territory, firstly on the wine and spirits market, before extending to all agricultural products. 

In 1992 the appellation d’origine protégée (the French equivalent of the PDO) was created, applying the same guarantees as the AOC but at European level. As with the AOC, the rules for producing an AOP-designated product (enshrined in a set of specifications) are subject to inspection procedures implemented by an independent body accredited by the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO). 

The designation system plays a part in the protection and reputation of our gastronomic heritage. It is a way to safeguard the unique... and inimitable character of a product! It provides clarity and transparency for consumers who know what they are buying and consuming and can distinguish a product whose value has been recognised from copies or attempted imitations with no guarantee as to their quality. 

The French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO) describes the strengths of the AOC as follows:

"An AOC area is born of an alliance between the natural environment and human ingenuity. From that alliance comes an AOC product with unique, inimitable characteristics, a product so different that it complements rather than competes with other products, possessing a particular identity that adds further value."

But what, in fact, are we defending?

Through the Comité Champagne, the Champagne Houses and Growers work daily to defend their designation, their wine and their expertise. They are defending a heritage passed down through the generations for centuries. 

"Champagne is a mythical product which forms part of France’s heritage. We have a duty to protect it so that our children can, in turn, perpetuate this unique wine"

There are several factors that make the Champagne designation unique.

  • The first is its terroir. The characteristics of the Champagne terroir cannot be reproduced anywhere but in Champagne: vineyards planted on hillsides, with well-drained soils, slopes that get plenty of sunshine and carefully selected grape varieties for their resistance to the climate.
  • The second is the Champagne makers’ skills in terms of blending, which produces balanced wines of unwavering taste and quality. Pressing of black-skinned grapes to make white wine. And, last but not least, expert control of effervescence in the wine.
  • The third has to do with the prestige surrounding Champagne: a world-famous name that is immediately associated with partying, celebration and elegance...

Defending the Champagne designation is necessary to protect this common heritage, this terroir, these skills and this legendary name.

How has Champagne risen to such global prominence? 

The history of Champagne is closely intertwined with the history of France. Because the Kingdom of France was born with Clovis' baptism in Reims (a city in the Champagne region), Champagne wine would come to be closely associated with the king, with nobility and with grand occasions.
In the late 17th century, it became sparkling, instantly winning over the court as well as the wealthy and the titled. Thanks to the extensive travels undertaken by the Champagne Houses, Champagne became famous around the world among aristocratic circles: as a symbol of culture, liberal thinking and the French way of life. 

Champagne and its history

Raisins dans vignes

Defending the Champagne designation forms part of the Comité Champagne’s remit!

Right from the outset, the Comité Champagne has protected this designation of origin on French territory, at several levels: business intelligence as regards the market and online, legal action and various out-of-court settlements in the event of misuse of the name "Champagne". It gives precedence to prevention, support and discussions to defend the designation.

The Comité Champagne

Protection efforts that extend far beyond France’s borders

Today, the challenge is to secure protection from among all the member states of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Many countries have signed protection agreements, under the impetus particularly of France and the European Union.

The more widely the Champagne designation is defended on the world stage, the better the universal protection of Champagne wines, which will be recognised as the truly unique products they are! 

Help us to defend the Champagne designation and to protect our gastronomic heritage! If you spot the name "Champagne" on a product which is not a bottle of Champagne, please let us know using the form below.

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