Champagne wins battle against hedgerow bubbly: Surrey producers will go to the Lords in campaign to save their wine's name

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The Independent Online
A HISTORIC defeat for French champagne producers was overturned yesterday by the Court of Appeal which ruled that a soft 'hedgerow' drink, produced in Surrey, could not be called elderflower champagne.

Three judges upheld a complaint by French champagne houses that describing the non-alcoholic drink, with its champagne-style bottles and wired corks, as champagne was a potential threat to the reputation of the genuine article.

In February, Allbev Ltd and Thorncroft Vineyard, had convinced the courts that 'only a moron in a hurry' could mistake the traditional country drink for real champagne. Their victory against the French had provoked murmurs of Agincourt, but that proved premature.

Yesterday, Dr Guy Woodall and his partner Ray Bevan, who own the elderflower companies, vowed to take their battle to another round in the House of Lords. So far the fight to call the elderflower drink, which retails at pounds 2.45, champagne has cost its makers more than pounds 200,000.

Outside the court, Bill Gunn, chairman of the Champagne Association, disappointed a host of journalists by refusing to crack open a bottle of the real thing. But he said: 'It is a comprehensive victory for the champagne industry. Champagne is a very valuable name and we will take every step and make every effort to protect it.

'Had the judgment gone the other way, it could have done a great deal of damage to the interests of champagne built up over many years.'

He disputed media descriptions of the case as a 'David and Goliath' battle. 'It tends to be forgotten that the champagne interests are made up of a very large number of very small producers whose operations are much smaller than Thorncroft's'

The elderflower dispute is the latest in hundreds of legal actions launched by the champagne industry against companies who try to use its name. Since 1960 more than 60 have been launched in England alone.

Yesterday, Thorncroft, which began marketing its drink in 1989, still insisted that no one 'in their right mind' would think it would have an effect on champagne.

Sir Thomas Bingham, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lords Justice Michael Mann and Peter Gibson, ruled that people with knowledge of wine would not buy the elderflower drink instead of champagne but 'any product which is not champagne but is allowed to describe itself as such must inevitably erode the singularity and exclusiveness of the description 'champagne' and so cause damage of an insidious but serious kind'.

The judge said Thorncroft wanted to use the word champagne because it 'imports nuances of quality and celebration, a sense of something privileged and special', but the company had done nothing to establish champagne's reputation.

Thorncroft arged that elderflower champagne was a well-known name for an English beverage that dates to the Middle Ages. Mr Woodall said his product was based on his grandmother's recipe.