A group of Swiss wine producers have mounted a legal challenge to retain the right to call their non-sparkling white wine Champagne.

The group of 39 winegrowers from the village of Champagne, near Lake Neuchatel in western Switzerland, have announced that they are to take their case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The growers lost the right to call their wine after the name of the village as the result of an agreement reached between the Swiss government and the EU.

"We want to fix the injustice committed against us," said Albert Banderet, president of the winegrower group that is fighting to retain the name. Their case is also being supported by the village's local council. "We are placing high hopes in European justice because we are really too small to compete with the French Champagne."
The agreement to phase out the Champagne branding - the bottles actually bear the words "Champagne, appellation controlee of Bonvillars" - was one of a series of bilateral agreements reached between the EU and Switzerland in 1999.

France's Champagne producers maintain that the name should only be used for sparkling white wine from the Champagne region of France. According to the agreement, the name must be removed from all Swiss-produced bottles by 1 June, 2004.

The Swiss "Champagne" producers contend that they are following a long-standing practice of naming their wine after their village. References to the name of the village - albeit with variations in spelling - can be found as far back as 885 and the growers point out that wine has been made in the village since the 10th century. The village's winemakers produce around 280,000 bottles a year which are only marketed in Switzerland. They estimate the loss of the name will cost them around €770,000.