For years now you have heard us constantly raise concerns around the protectionist behaviour being used by our European competitors to gain a competitive advantage for key grape varieties like Prosecco, under the guise of protection of Geographic Indications (GIs). They have invested heavily in rewriting the rules and history books on the grape variety Prosecco for over 10 years, to the point where some Government’s that should understand and care more about this issue, like New Zealand, have begun to cave to these pressures.
You may think, ‘this Prosecco issue they keep talking about isn’t relevant to me, I don’t even produce the variety’. Well, you may not produce Prosecco, but the issue is relevant to everyone. It is relevant across a number of varieties and it is not just limited to Australia but internationally as well. Even the French wine industry has now fallen foul to the complex contradictory regulatory protection of the European Union’s (EU) GI efforts. Recent media reports have given French producers a rude awakening. As they are only just realizing, despite producing similar volumes of the grape variety Vermentino to the Italian wine industry, they are not allowed to use the term. This is because of a deal struck in 2013 between Italian producers and the EU which has supposedly been written into EU regulation. They now instead will be forced to use the unknown and rather unpopular synonym of the variety “Rolle”. Unless of course the EU simply changes the rules again. There is no genuine basis for this restriction related to geographic origin, it is simply that Italian producers made a back room deal to try and control the use of the term and corner the market for the variety.
“Why is it all so important though? Well, it sets a precedent – if the EU can do this to Prosecco, what stops it happening with other grape varieties or other common food names?“
The irony of the whole thing is that this EU regulation which appears responsible for stopping the French from labelling the variety Vermentino, specifically allow the labelling of Vermentino for Italy, Australia, the United States of America and Croatia while apparently simultaneously blocking the rest of the world from doing so. We won’t even delve into the other varieties listed in this regulation or the fact that Sangiovese, Fiano and Nebbiolo also have the same allowances and restrictions as Vermentino under the regulation.
While it is fairly common to come across contradictory European regulation, this particular issue highlights again the true nature of the EU GI protection efforts. It is about selectively and strategically gaining the rights to produce and label terms such as grape varieties. It is about trading partners exerting their power over countries which either don’t understand or don’t yet have a big enough investment in the variety to care. It is about countries doing deals with the EU to own those terms where they should have no legal basis to do so and often is downright contradictory.
There is an ever-growing list of grape variety terms that are being targeted for protection as GIs. While most of our varieties may seem ok for now, the Vermentino issue has highlighted that the EU will continue to rewrite the rules to favor its member states.
This is why Prosecco is not just about Prosecco – and why it is so important that the Australian Government continues to hold strong in EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations as they near conclusion. Prosecco is the thin edge of the wedge, that under no circumstances should be let go or risk opening the flood gates to whatever the next target will be. Prosecco is and always has been a grape variety that should be freely available to be grown, made into wine and labelled as such like any other grape variety.