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EDITIONS
Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
A case of sour grapes
French champagne glasses
The French claim that champagne is their trademark

Standing at the top of the steeply sloping vineyards at Champagne, in the canton Vaud, I begin to feel a deep-rooted peace and that strange feeling that I have been here before.

With a good degree of self consciousness, I try to explain my feelings to Paul Banderet, a 90-year-old wine grower and farmer who stands beside me.

"Oh you have been here before now," he says confidently. "This is God's garden. This is where it all began."

Looking across the shimmering lake, framed by mountains, on to the rest of the canton, you get a sense that the world has momentarily stopped turning.

For Paul Banderet, or "Monsieur Paul" as he is respectfully called by other villagers, Champagne is where it really did all begin.

Born into a family of vineyard owners who had tended the same plot of vines for generations, Monsieur Paul was given his first pair of secateurs at 14.

Since that day, for the past 75 years, he has got up at 0530 every morning and walked to his fields to prune and pick his crop.

Today, he is still working, still tending his vines and making Swiss champagne.


When I was a boy we were taught that you don't pick fights with boys who are smaller than you. So why is that great powerful France picking on little Switzerland?

Monsieur Paul, Swiss wine grower

"My life is in these vines," he tells me as he snaps off some of the dead twigs and foliage which are hiding the fruit from the sunlight.

"When I'm sad and a bit down, I sit myself by the kitchen window in my farmhouse and I look out on the vineyards and I say, 'Paul, that's your life's work there, and while there are good green grapes on your vines, there is good breath and blood left in you'."

EU deal

But the days of Swiss champagne could be numbered.

Under a series of bilateral agreements that Switzerland has just struck with the EU, the French have objected to the little Swiss village of Champagne using its name on its wine labels.

They claim that champagne is their trademark and only they have the right to use it.

It has infuriated the Swiss villagers.

They have banded together in protest and are taking the matter before the European courts.

When I ask Monsieur Paul what he thinks about the argument, he shakes with emotion.

"When I was a boy we were taught that you don't pick fights with boys who are smaller than you," he says wagging his finger at me.

"So why is that great powerful France picking on little Switzerland?

"I don't claim to make bubbly champagne with posh corks like the French.

"I make Swiss champagne which is simple, still white and red wine and which comes in bottles you unscrew.

"If the courts make us change our name, I'm telling you straight, I will never drink another drop of French wine again."
Champagne being poured
The Swiss village has made wine since the 9th century

He takes off his straw hat and motions it forward across the lake towards Mont Blanc.

"My family is in these vines too. My father is buried down there," he says, looking at me with watery eyes.

"But these days, since the French have said they will take away our name, I wonder if he is sleeping peacefully in his grave any more.

"I don't like to think of his dreams being spoiled."

The throb of a tractor overpowers Monsieur Paul's voice and we climb the slope to greet Jean Louis, a neighbouring farmer who has come to tell Monsieur Paul the latest on the Luxembourg case.
European Court of Justice in Luxembourg
The case is now going to the European Court of Justice

"We've delivered all the documents to the European Court of Justice now," he tells us.

"The Brussels lawyers have studied all the WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules and say we have a case."

Monsieur Paul looks confused at the mention of the grand sounding names. Now and again he nods uncertainly as Jean Louis talks him through the legal procedures and the chances of compensation.

"But Jean Louis," he says suddenly. "Are we going to win? Because if we lose, we have lost our history, we will lose who we are."

Jean Louis scratches his head, reflects for a moment and says philosophically: "Well I think it is a bit like playing in the World Cup. We need a good referee on the day.

"Sometimes refs are biased, sometimes they are fair. In any case we will know as soon as the first whistle blows."

As Jean Louis left us to tend to his vines on the other side of the valley, Monsieur Paul picked up his shears and began to sing a song.

"Up to the vines, the wine grower goes. Where are you going little wine grower, where are you going?"

He stops pruning the vines and putting down his tools, he looks out over his valley and sings the refrain again to the mountains.

Then, to no-one in particular, he says softly: "Oh little wine grower, I have a terrible feeling that you are going nowhere."

See also:

20 May 02 | Europe
28 Dec 00 | Europe
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