PARIS - Will France's Champagne vineyards be added to UNESCO's prestigious World Heritage List?

Pierre Cheval, a wine producer and the president of the Champagne Landscapes Association, says the candidacy has been six years in the making. The official launching of the candidacy is to be celebrated on May 29 in Reims. From there producers will have to sweat it out until the final decision in July 2014.

Call it an Olympic bid for culture. What's at stake are the recognition that the site is "of outstanding universal value to humanity" and "without equivalent throughout the world."

Money on the line

Being on the list would be a precious tool to fight against fake "champagnes." Despite all the energy spent by wine producers and sellers of the region, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, the United States, Vietnam and a few former Soviet Republics continue to sell large amounts of ‘champagne'-labeled bubbly.

The volume of fake champagne sold on the market is said to equal the stock of the real French product. That's 330 million bottles, according to Jean-Luc Barbier, the director of the Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wine, or CIVC.

The competition is particularly unfair since the above-mentioned bubbly wines are produced without respecting any of the traditional local rules of Champagne, including the quality of grape. Fakes rarely cost more than seven euros, while an authentic Champagne bottle costs between 18 and 200 euros, or even more for exceptional vintages.

Champagne producers have used carrot and stick against fraudsters. Not only did they fight counterfeiting, but in some cases, they worked alongside foreign producers who had broken the law, helping them to develop their own names and create a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for their wines.

Champagne is not the first wine-producing region seeking the protection of the UNESCO classification. Five sites are already registered in the World Heritage List: Saint-Emilion in France, the Upper Douro Valley in Portugal, the Tokaj Coast in Hungary, Lavaux in Switzerland and Pico Island in the Azores.

Burgundy, another French wine-producing region, has applied for the status and is expecting an answer from UNESCO. The region is one step ahead of Champagne, since it has passed the selection by the French government, a stage that Champagne will go through in the fall.

Read the original story in French on Les Echos

Photo –Daria Nepriakhina