Swiss Tribunal Rules “Absinthe” Is Generic, Not Tied to Place of Origin
Ruling against Val-de-Travers absinthe producers, the Swiss Federal Administrative Tribunal has reversed a 2010 Federal Office of Agriculture decision confirming the “protected geographical indications” registration of the terms “absinthe,” “fée verte”—the green fairy and “la bleue.” Guignon v. Ass’n interprofessionnelle de l’Absinthe, No. B-4820/2012 (Tribunal administratif fédéral, decided August 13, 2014). The court said in a press release that it believed “that this denomination refers to a type of good, regardless of its origin, and not to a product originating specifically from Val-de-Travers.” According to the court, just a small percentage of people in Switzerland associate the terms with this region, a district in the Neuchâtel canton.
The president of the absinthe association, which registered the terms on behalf of the producers and defended the appeals filed by distillers in France, Germany and Switzerland, reportedly characterized the decision as “incomprehensible” because most of Switzerland’s absinthe is produced in Val-de-Travers and the ruling will harm artisan distillers. The town claims that the wormwood-derived drink originated in the area in the 18th century, although the country then banned it in the early 1900s. It was popular among writers, including Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, for its purported psychedelic properties. Hemingway was said to have invented the cocktail “Death in the Afternoon” which required per his instructions: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.” After legalization in 2005, the town’s absinthe industry revived, and some nine distilleries currently operate there.
While the association is apparently considering whether to appeal the ruling, Pernod Ricard Switzerland’s CEO Francisco de la Vega noted that Henri-Louis Pernod opened the first absinthe distillery in Val-de-Travers but moved it to France a few years later. “The Swiss then banned absinthe for a century, and now they pretend that it’s theirs alone,” he said. See The Local, August 12, 2014; Law360 and Bloomberg, August 13, 2014; Beveragedaily.com, August 14, 2014.