A Tasmanian farmer has earned a firm ticking-off from France after suggesting people could make their excess rhubarb into champagne.
Guy Robertson from Penguin, in the state’s north-west, has turned his business over to deliveries after losing all of almost his usual sales at traditional farmers’ markets and festivals, restaurants and in on-farm experiences overnight because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The first week was the sleepless week,” Mr Robertson said.
“Then we realised we could put everything online.”
The Mount Gnomon Farm website was born – and Mr Robertson is now busy selling meat, vegetables, and fruit online, as well as products from other local artisan producers.
But it was a post on social media that landed him in hot water with the French. He has been including in-season rhubarb in his produce boxes, and suggested anyone who had too much should treat themselves, as he had, by brewing some homemade rhubarb bubbly, which he termed champagne.
A couple of days later, he answered the phone to a French official.
“In the middle of deliveries I received a phone call from a gentleman in France with the threat of legal action about the farm’s production of rhubarb champagne,” Mr Robertson wrote in a Facebook post.
“I never thought that 10 litres of rhubarb cordial for our own consumption would be on the radar in France.”
Yesterday in the middle of deliveries I received a phone call from a gentleman in France with the threat of legal action…
The French official told Mr Robertson that organisations such as the Comité Champagne protect and promote the Champagne brand.
“He was a really nice guy, he said: ‘I know it’s a really bad time around the world at the moment, but our legal team takes it very seriously’,” Mr Robertson told ABC Radio.
“He said he has been doing it for three years and it’s his job to make sure everyone complies and nobody markets their bubbles as champagne unless you come from the Champagne region in France.
“It was a funny moment for me, I just couldn’t believe I had a call from France in the current climate about 10 litres of home brew that we aren’t even marketing.”
Apparently, among Mount Gnomon Farm’s thousands of social media fans is a French person, who was concerned by Mr Robertson’s post.
The post was reported – and the man in France then followed it up.
“They take their job very seriously,” Mr Robertson said.
“It made me laugh and laugh.
“If I ever go into the production of rhubarb champagne, I’ll have to call it something different.”
In other respects, Mount Gnomon farm is proving resilient. Mr Robertson said he was delivering food boxes throughout Tasmania.
“The most encouraging thing is the community support,” he said.
“We’re trying to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do.”
For Easter, he has 70 deliveries around the state’s north-west, 50 to Launceston and 60 to Hobart – all driven by himself.
And rhubarb will be in all the produce boxes.