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New EU Wine Laws

The EU agreed to alter its wine laws in 2008 with the most important from a consumer’s point of view coming to force in August 2009. Since most of the changes are permissive, it remains to be seen how it will affect the wine that appears on the shelf.

There are changes to the rules relating to supports for excess production, enrichment remains legal but on a reduced basis, there are changes to additives permitted (most notably the use of oak and tannin). There are incentives that hope to ‘grub-up’ some 175,000 hectares of uncompetitive vineyards and supports for the crisis distillation of surplus wines have gone. The restrictions on planting rights will gradually be abolished, thereby allowing the successful producers to plant more vines.

There are protections for traditional usages, including bottle shapes. There is no change to the dominance of vinifera grapes. The regulation now states that:

only wine grape varieties meeting the following conditions may be classified by Member States:

  1. the variety concerned belongs to the Vitis vinifera or comes from a cross between the species Vitis vinifera and other species of the genus Vitis;
  2. the variety is not one of the following: Noah, Othello, Isabelle, Jacquez, Clinton and Herbemont.

The information on the label will change to include more compulsory information as well as other optional information. A key element is that the grape varietal may now appear on the label of all wines. It is not a requirement and will be used to different extents.

Still wine becomes known as ‘table wine’ and there are three categories: two of which contain geographical indications. The third category encompasses what used to be labelled ‘table wine’ in many places and is a generic catch-all category for wine that meets the basic EU standards of quality and is bottled and labelled under EU regulations. Existing national systems will be mapped to the new categories and there is no need to change national systems unless (a) they are not in conformity with the EU system or (b) the national authorities want to take the opportunity to capitalise on some change.

The two categories of wine where there is a geographical indication are:

  • PDO Protected Designations of Origin
  • PGI Protected Geographical Indication

These have to applied for, may be withdrawn and the designation must appear on the label, unless a Traditional Term has been authorised such as DOC/DOCG, DO, DOCa etc. There has already been a process of mapping Traditional Terms to the new system and the approved ones are set out in a detailed appendix to the main legal document.

Protected Designations of Origin is to all intents and purposes the AC, DOC, DOCG systems already in place in many countries. The PDO is the name of an area, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, the name of a country. The wine must come from that area. Its quality and properties must be significantly or exclusively determined by the geographical environment, including natural and human factors and its production, processing and preparation takes place within the determined geographical area. It must also be obtained from vitis vinifera. This is very close to the concept of terroir.

The designation permits the varietal to appear on the label and there is an EU ‘PDO symbol’.

Protected Geographical Indication is very similar to a Vins de Pays system or IGT system. It is an indication that links the wine to a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country. The wine must have a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that geographical origin; (ii) at least 85 % of the grapes used for its production come exclusively from this geographical area; (iii) its production takes place in this geographical area; (iv) it is obtained from vine varieties belonging to Vitis vinifera or a cross between the Vitis vinifera species and other species of the genus Vitis.

The corollary is that up to 15% of the grapes may come from outside the region in question.

The remaining category is of wine without a geographical indication. This ‘table wine’ may be made from wine sourced anywhere within the EU and the wine maker may now indicate the grape varietals and the vintage date. There are controls on the giving of a regional designation to the wine, especially if the wine comes from more than one EU country.

Changes to France

Since France was to the fore in making these changes, it has moved to change its wine laws. However, it will be sometime before we see the effect of these on the bottle in the shop. Producers have until the end of 2010 before they must use the new label styles. Wines at the high end are least likely to change, with change more evident lower down.

Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) [PDO in English] does not replace the designation AC (AOC).  AC may be far more demanding than AOP will require.  From the point of view of the wine enthusiast, little will change, except that the grape may now appear on the label. Whether it does or not will depend on the producer.

Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) [IGT in English] encompasses what are currently called Vins de Pays. What effect this has remains to be seen. The organisation that represents the Vins de Pays has no suggestion that they intend to change anything radically – they have spent a long time building a brand. It may be that ‘Vin de’ disappears from the label so that ‘Vin de Pays D’Oc’ becomes ‘Pays D’Oc’ on the label. There is provision to alter the boundaries of wine production but this will hardly be undertaken lightly given the past experience of the litigious nature of French wine producers. The degree to which producers seize upon the opportunity to import up to 15% of the grapes will also remain to be seen.

The third category in French wine will now be the table wine without geographical indication. This will be referred to as ‘Vin de France’ and producers will be able to indicate the grape variety and the year of vintage. The minimum of administrative and wine production constraints are envisaged for these wines so that the grapes may be grown anywhere and not just in designated areas. These wines will be permitted the use of additives (oak tea bags, tannins) not permitted to the higher quality wines. The principle is that these wines will be able to compete with similar wines from Australia and South Africa which originate from a large geographical area.

However, there are already signs that all is not well. Producers of higher quality wine do not like the idea of the grape appearing on the label as they fear that their wines will be tainted by association. Thus, wine growers in Alsace, Jura and Savoie may have persuaded (you never know in France!) the authorities that the grape variety of their wines – Gewurstraminer, Riesling, Sylvaner etc – should be excluded from the wine label of these wines. There is also debate as to whether the wine should be called Vignobles de France or Cépage de France. This is likely to run and run.

So in the short term, the most visible manifestation of these changes is the appearance of the grape variety on AC level wines in some cases.

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