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The Prosecco GI Lie

By Damien Griffante,  Policy Manager - Market Access.

Imagine if France decided tomorrow that the grape variety Chardonnay was no longer called Chardonnay, and instead was called something completely fictitious. Now imagine, France then created a random geographic boundary around some Chardonnay vineyards in Burgundy, claiming it to be a new Geographic Indication (GI) named “Chardonnay”. Now imagine France then passed regulations which changed the name of the Chardonnay grape variety across Europe to its new fictitious variety name, which was completely unfamiliar and unappealing to consumers. Then, through European trade negotiations, imagine France systematically went about restricting the use of Chardonnay in other countries and markets on the grounds that their Chardonnay, was not from the so called “Chardonnay” GI.

“What a ridiculous notion” you may say. “Everyone knows Chardonnay is a grape variety…this would never be acceptable to consumers or the global wine sector”.

While this may seem fanciful, this is exactly what happened in 2009 and has been the reality for the Prosecco grape variety ever since. Through many years of consistent propaganda and gradually picking off unwitting markets the “Prosecco GI Lie” has been gaining traction. We’re now supposed to believe that despite having no specific geographic reference before, Prosecco is a GI and that the grape variety is actually called “Glera”. As the common saying goes, repeat a lie enough and eventually people will start to believe it.

This is what is possible when you have a large trading partner with the resources and power of the European Union (EU) capable of bullying much smaller nations like Australia and others into submission, even if it means manipulating reality and disregarding historic facts for blatantly protectionist reasons.

Around three years into the Prosecco GI Lie the Italians made their first attempt to restrict use of the grape variety in Australia by applying to register the term as a European wine GI through Australia’s existing wine GI system. Fortunately, after extensive legal battle in 2013, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (now Australian Grape and Wine Incorporated) successfully defended the ability of Australian producers to grow and produce Prosecco on the grounds that it was in fact the common name of a grape variety used in Australia.

Fast forward to 2019, and, the Europeans are taking another shot at manipulating history in Australia through the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations.    

Round five of the FTA negotiations were held in Canberra in October 2019, including a significant milestone of the initial market access offer exchange for goods from both sides. The EU would only allow market access offers to be discussed following Australia’s initiation of a public consultation on hundreds of food and alcohol GIs for which they were seeking protection in Australia.

While wine escaped much of this process due to its well-established GI system, which has been in place since Australia and EU first agreed to a wine agreement in 1994, pressure from the EU ensured Prosecco was put back on the table for negotiation, much to the dismay of the sector.

The response from the Australian community on Prosecco was clear. During the course of the GI consultations there have been many Australian wine companies, regional and state representative bodies, legal firms and academics all contributing submissions, urging the Australian Government to hold strong and protect our right to use the grape variety Prosecco.

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? And don’t think this isn’t already happening and being considered, with the EU continually looking to rewrite the rule books.

Prosecco production is still comparatively small in Australia but is clearly growing rapidly. Australia is one of the fastest growing sparkling wine markets in the world and the EU knows this. The investment in the variety in terms of plantings, production infrastructure, and branding is significant and the potential for growth is huge, both in Australia and elsewhere.  This is why the EU is fighting for sole rights to sell the product on our shores, and in other markets around the world. In 2019, the Prosecco grape variety entered the top 10 list of Australia’s most common white grape varieties. Prosecco grapes are fetching prices in excess of $1000 per tonne, some of the highest of any variety this year. Its potential is well known in the sector with some suggesting it has the potential to become the next great Australian wine trend.

The public consultation process on GI protection in Australia under the FTA has now ended and this David vs Goliath battle is in the hands of the Australian Government. Will hundreds of years of historic references to the grape variety be ignored? Will they ignore the investments, jobs and economic growth Prosecco is bringing to regional communities across Australia? Will they cast-aside the legal system’s determination that  Prosecco is a common grape variety name and risk the legal implications? Will they accept the Prosecco GI Lie and give in to the EU? Or will they instead back Australia’s Prosecco producers and stand up for the rights of the Australian wine sector, its consumers, and the regional communities that are benefiting from the booming Prosecco market in Australia? Only time will tell.