Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Brewers give French the bird

'We're not trying to pass ourselves off as a sparkling wine from France' say Moa Beer makers. Photo / Supplied
'We're not trying to pass ourselves off as a sparkling wine from France' say Moa Beer makers. Photo / Supplied

A South Island brewery has been warned to stop comparing its beer to Champagne by the guardians of the sparkling French wine.

Moa Beer, based in Marlborough, has been sent a formal warning which demands that it delete two references to the Champagne name on the brewery's website. The letter was sent by the director-general of Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the body which represents Champagne wine producers in the northeast of France.

On Moa's website, founder Josh Scott compares the consumption of the company's Breakfast Beer to drinking Champagne at breakfast.

The company also refers to the fact the beer is bottle-fermented, "like they do with Champagne".

Director-general Jean-Luc Barbier wrote that the name Champagne was protected by national laws and trans-border regulations.

He said the rules protected against exploitation of Champagne's reputation, imitation, evocation or any use likely to mislead consumers.

"[We] ask you to immediately amend or delete any reference to 'Champagne' and to refrain from associating your beer with Champagne."

But Moa refused to back down, saying it was being bullied.

Publicist Sunil Unka said: "We thought the letter was a little bit overbearing and petty".

"It's fairly obvious that we're a brewery in the business of brewing beer and unmistakably from New Zealand. We're not trying to pass ourselves off as a sparkling wine from France.

After taking legal advice, the brewery will stand by the descriptions.

Mr Unka said the case was the latest in a spate of large companies bullying smaller businesses.

He cited dairy giant Fonterra's battle to prevent a Waikato cheese-maker from using the word "vintage" to describe its gouda. As well, this week DB Breweries forced a Central Otago brewery to stop calling its beers "Radler", because DB trademarked the name in 2003.

Moa Beer responded to the Champagne letter with a flippant postcard.

One side has a photo of the sinking Rainbow Warrior - bombed by the French Secret Service in 1985 - and a caption with the operation's codename, "Operation Satanique".

The other side reads "Pokokohua Haere Atu - Moa Beer" which, in the company's words, was the closest phrase to "F*** you" in Maori.

- NZ Herald

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