Pleasure without Champagne ispurely artificial.—Oscar Wilde
OF ALL THE products that qualify as protected geographical indications, Champagne's prominence is undeniable; it veritably sparkles. Within its enticingly translucent green-glass walls of reinforced thickness, the bottle successfully contains the burgeoning effervescence arising from successive fermentations. All is seemingly calm until the celebratory uncorking. Champagne is therefore the perfect metaphor for understanding geographical indication protection systems, and wine appellation regimes in particular.
Beneath the surface of the “naturalized” claim—that the geographical features of a region influence product quality— lies considerable agitation and volatility. Indeed, the very question of whether we call the wine “champagne” or “Champagne” is still argued over, much like the disputes that arose over which locations could produce Champagne. The intertwined socio-economic and legal histories of Champagne show these fault lines, and help to explain how a distinct or sui generis legal regime came to protect regional brands.
Modern intellectual property law has grappled with the question of how to protect such potentially valuable regional brands since at least the 19th century. Trademark law seems to be the obvious choice. However, signs such as Champagne are inexorably considered descriptive—they describe the geographical region of origin, such as Parma for ham or Colombia for coffee— and cannot distinctively identify a specific commercial undertaking, like Coke®.
These designations can also be used collectively by all legitimate producers within the region, whereas trademark law presumes that an individual commercial entity is claiming exclusive use over a sign. To some extent, these hurdles have been overcome within trademark regimes, in the form of certification marks or collective marks. However, these (initially significant) obstacles led to the adoption of a distinct, registration-based system of protection for such regional brands and Champagne was deeply implicated in its emergence.
Over the past half-millennium, the wine's journey to iconic status has been neither smooth nor inevitable.