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Chasing the elusive ‘Green Fairy’: Absinthe row erupts in Switzerland

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By Ben Bouckley+

14-Aug-2014
Last updated on 14-Aug-2014 at 17:12 GMT

Chasing the elusive ‘Green Fairy’: Absinthe row erupts in Switzerland

Swiss absinthe producers from Val-de-Travers are attacking a Swiss federal court ruling that could deny their region a national monopoly on the terms ‘absinthe’, ‘fee verte’ and ‘la bleue’.

Yesterday the Swiss Federal Adminstrative Tribunal (TAF) agreed with 11 objections from rival Swiss, French and German absinthe producers (including Pernod Ricard Switzerland) against an August 2012 decision by the Federal Office of Agriculture (OFAG) confirming the registration of the terms as Protected Geographical Indications (PGI).

But the TAF ruling annuls the OFAG ruling and prevents registration of the term, with the judges concluding that the term ‘absinthe’ refers to a generic ‘type of product’, so should not be reserved for the use of Val-de-Travers producers alone.

Furthermore, the court ruled that L’interprofessionnelle de l’absinthe (which represents distillers in Val-de-Travers) failed to prove that ‘fee verte’ (green fairy) and ‘La Bleue’ were not generic names.

Arguing that reserving the three denominations for Val-de-Travers producers alone was unjustified, the court criticized a 2007 vote that L’interprofessionnelle used to support its position, and said that only a small percentage of people in Switzerland associate the designations with this region.

L’interprofessionnelle can still appeal the decision before the same Swiss court, but as of today it is unclear is it will do so – it plans to canvas opinion among its 17 members.

“After having suffered from the [Swiss absinthe] ban between 1910 to 2005, Val-de-Travers is for now deprived of the appellations, of its 'forbidden fruit'. It's not acceptable,” the trade body said in a French language statement to press, which we’ve translated here.

It added that the TAF’s decision will only reinforce the position of big European companies at the expense of artisan distillers from Val-de-Travers.

President of l’interprofessionnelle, Laurent Fauvre, claimed last September that it was “well-established that absinthe was created in Val-de-Travers and that its fame spread from there”.

“During almost 100 years of prohibition, the distillers of the Val-du-Travers risked heavy penalties in order to keep this iconic product alive,” he added.

“Without their courage and tenacity, absinthe may well have disappeared by now,” Fauvre said.

But there’s another side to the argument. Francisco de la Vega, now CEO of Pernod Ricard Switzerland said in late 2012 that, while Henri-Louis Pernod opened the first absinthe distillery in Val-de-Travers, he moved to nearby Pontarlier, France a few years later and started making it there.

“The Swiss then banned absinthe for a century, and now they pretend that it’s theirs alone!” de la Vega added.

Julien Morand, commercial director of Swiss distiller – Canto du Valais-based Morand a Martigny – which sells its own absinthe – welcomed the TAF decision.

“I hope that Laurent Favre and his friends will be wise enough to stop there,” he told French site 20 Minutes, adding that a new legal battle was in no-one’s interests.

The news follows a March 2013 decision by the EU Parliament to block a proposal to create a new spirits category for absinthe after the Commission and member states agreed a common recipe.

You can read the full Swiss TAF court ruling (in French) here .

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