Nero d’Avola is a red grape variety indigenous to Sicily, where it is the region’s most planted variety. It is thought to have originated near the region of Avola, and is now grown throughout the island of Sicily and more broadly.
In more recent times, plantings of the variety have spread to other parts of the world, including Australia, where the Chalmers family nursery imported the first Nero d’Avola vines in 1998 (although not released from quarantine for cultivation until 2001).
A literal translation of “Nero d’Avola” in English is “Black of Avola”. Avola is a city in the province of Syracuse, Sicily, Italy. The “Nero” refers to the colour of the grape, in the same manner as the French use Noir (black) or Blanc (white) to distinguish between red and white grape varieties (Pinot Noir/Sauvignon Blanc).
Acclaimed Australian wine writer, James Halliday’s Wine Companion website, recently described Nero d’Avola as Australian wines “New Black” due the varietals suitability to Australia’s warmer climates and its rise in popularity.
“If you could invent a variety for Australia right now, you would probably make a red wine that could endure Australia’s sometimes challenging climate. It would probably also be medium-bodied to reflect the shift towards lighter red wines and perhaps have some Italian pedigree because that style is on the rise. If you could invent such a thing, you might make something like Nero d’Avola.”
On 8 August 2017, the European Union lodged a list of 906 European Geographic Indications (GIs) for protection in Australia under the existing Wine GI protection system. In order to complete the registration of these GIs, they underwent a process of objection through the Australian trade mark office in accordance with Division 2 of the Australian Grape and Wine Authority Regulations 1981.
Following the review of this list, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) found one proposed term, which it considered may pose a risk to all Australian producers if successfully registered for protection as a GI. As a result, WFA proceeded to lodge an objection to the registration of the term “Avola”, on the grounds that “Nero d’Avola” is a commonly used grape variety, and this registration could impact Australian wineries producing the variety.
On 4 January 2018, WFA submitted around 40 pages of evidence to IP Australia, supporting the objection to the EU registering of the term “Avola” as a European GI in Australia.
On 6 August 2018, WFA received notice from IP Australia of the outcome of the objection to the registration of Avola as a protected GI. The decision held that the evidence provided, “establishes that Nero d’Avola is used in Australia as the name of a variety of grapes”. However that “evidence does not establish that Avola solus is used in Australia as the name of a variety of grapes.”
This determination is a great outcome for the Australian wine industry as it not only recognises the grape variety, but also achieves what WFA have maintained for many years as the ideal outcome to these types of disputes, being Homonymous use. It is recognition of the ability to use the term in Australia in both contexts (varietal or GI claim) on labels, provided that claim is truthful.
To ensure the interpretation of this decision was clear, WFA also sought clarification from Wine Australia on the implications of this decision for the use of Nero d’Avola by Australian producers. Wine Australia confirmed that:
“… once Avola is registered as a GI in Australia, use of ‘Nero d’Avola’ would not constitute a GI claim. Rather, Wine Australia’s position is that ‘Nero d’Avola’ is a common internationally recognised grape variety produced in Australia and internationally. Accordingly, our position is that use of the variety Nero d’Avola as a grape varietal name would not constitute an offence under the Act.”
Since this decision, the process to register Avola as a protected GI in Australia has continued, with a Notice of the Interim Determination from the GI Committee published on the Wine Australia website. We expect the finalisation of the registration of Avola as a GI, to be completed by the end of 2018. We hope this can serve as an example of the benefit of Homonymous use in the future, as negotiations over the rights of Australian wine producers to use other grape varieties, such as Prosecco and Montepulciano, continue in the future.