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In December 2007, the reform of the European wine market organisation was decided. Among other things, it concerns the planting rights for vines in the European Union (EU), the admissibility of certain oenological practices and the wine labelling law. The new regulations on oenological practices, designations of origin and geographical indications as well as on labelling and presentation came into force on 1 August 2009. In 2012, the EU Commission will present a report summarising the experience gained in implementing the reform and its impact.

Food labelling law is transferred to wine

All EU member states are affected by the amendment of the wine labelling law. In essence, the existing protected designations of origin for foodstuffs are also to be applied to wine. Already since 2006, the EU agricultural law knows the terms "protected geographical indication" (PGI) and "protected designation of origin" (PDO). A food with PGI status must be produced, processed and/or manufactured within the named area of origin. In the case of foodstuffs with PDO status, all production stages (i.e. production, processing and manufacture) must take place within the specified region of origin and in accordance with recognised and defined procedures. The corresponding agricultural products, which then bear their geographical origin in the name (e.g. Allgäu mountain cheese, Black Forest ham, Nuremberg gingerbread, Dortmund beer), are registered as European Community trademarks and are thus legally protected against misuse of the name and imitation. The EU wine market reform transfers this model to the wine sector and differentiates between wines with protected designation of origin, wines with protected geographical indication and wines without designation of origin.

The EU logo for foodstuffs with a protected geographical indication (source: ec.europa.eu)

Principle of origin in the foreground

Until now, the EU wine law system roughly distinguished between table wines, country wines, quality wines and third-country wines. With the reform, the principle of origin is to be given greater prominence. Countries that use the so-called Romance appellation system for their wines will have fewer problems with the implementation of the new regulations because this system already judges wine quality according to origin. Simply put, a wine is the better the more narrowly its geographical origin - according to certain criteria - can be narrowed down. This approach inevitably leads to a concept of top vineyards, which due to their natural conditions (climate, soil, sun exposure, etc.) are particularly favorable to the growth, ripeness and aromatic character of the grapes. In France, such vineyards are called Premier Cru or Grand Cru, in Germany and Austria, similar concepts have existed for several years with the Erste Lage classification models, which the VDP and ÖTW vintners' associations, respectively, have created. However, these association-internal concepts are not anchored in wine law.

Appellations become protected designations of origin

Countries that use the Romanesque wine designation system are, for example, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Greece (following the French model). Their quality wines usually bear an appellation designation indicating the origin - so far in France "Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée" (AOC), in Italy "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" (DOC), in Spain "Denominación de Origen" (DO), in Portugal "Denominação de Origem Controlada" (DOC) and in Greece "Onomasia Proléfseos Anoteras Piótitos" (OPAP). Within the new system, these appellations are transferred almost congruently to the status of a protected designation of origin. This also slightly changes their nomenclature, as the term "protected" has to be explicitly mentioned. Thus, the new designations in France are "Appellation d'Origine Protégée" (AOP), in Italy "Denominazione di Origine Protetta" (DOP), in Spain "Denominación de Origen Protegida" (DOP), in Portugal "Denominação de Origem Protegida" (DOP) and in Greece "Prostatevomenis Onomasias Proléfsis" (POP). In English - and thus in international usage - the PDO category is called "Protected Designation of Origin" (PDO).

The EU logo for foodstuffs with a protected designation of origin (source: ec.europa.eu)

Changes for country wines and table wines

As protected geographical indications in the sense of the new system, the previous country wine designations can be taken over to a large extent. However, the nomenclature will also change - for example in France from "Vin de Pays" (VdP) to "Indication Géographique Protégée" (IGP), in Italy from "Indicazione Geografica Tipica" (IGT) to "Indicazione Geografica Protetta" (IGP), in Spain from "Vino de la Tierra" (VdlT) to "Indicación Geográfica Protegida" (IGP), in Portugal from "Vinho Regional" (VR) to "Indicação Geográfica Protegida" (IGP) and in Greece from "Topikos Oinos" to "Prostatevomenis Geografikis Endixis" (PGE). In English, the PGI category is called "Protected Geographical Indication" (PGI).

The previous category table wine corresponds in the new system to the wines without protected designation of origin. Of course, these wines still have a roughly defined origin (e.g. German wine, wine from the European Community), but this is not protected by law - and ultimately without any meaning for the taste or character of a wine so designated. In contrast to the previous regulations for table wine, however, wines without a protected designation of origin may also bear information on grape varieties and vintage.

Differences between Romanic and Germanic designation system

The implementation of the reform will be more problematic than for the countries with the Romanesque wine designation system for the EU member states that use the so-called Germanic designation system. This system is based on the quality principle, not on the origin principle. Wine quality is determined by the physiological ripeness of the grapes, for which the must weight is an important indicator. According to this approach, the higher the proportion of dissolved substances in the grape must (the definition of must weight), the higher the quality of the wine. Based on the must weight, for example, the different predicate levels from Kabinett to Eiswein were developed in Germany and Austria. According to the new designation law, both quality wines and Prädikat wines are generally given the status of wines with a protected designation of origin in these countries. However, part 2 of our series of articles on the EU wine market regulation will show that there are many other aspects to be considered.

In Germany and Austria, the new wine designations are not yet used. (Photo: BMULFW)

Validity, implementation and deadlines

First of all, it should be noted that under the new wine designation law, the previous Landwein regions as protected geographical indications and the previous quality wine regions as protected designations of origin enjoy automatic protection. Further protected designations of origin can be applied for. The EU member states must submit product specifications to the EU Commission by December 31, 2011 for all designations of origin that are to be protected as Community trademarks. These specifications include at least the name to be protected, an analytical and, if applicable, also an organoleptic description of the wine, the delimitation of the geographical area concerned, the maximum yield per hectare, the permitted grape varieties, and, if applicable, the specific oenological processes used for winemaking. Designations of origin whose product specifications are not submitted to the Commission by the end of 2011 will lose international protection against misuse and imitation of the name, but they may still be used.

As already mentioned, the new regulations have been in force since August 2009. Wines labeled or marketed under the previous appellation law before December 31, 2010, may be sold in that form until stocks are exhausted. How the new appellations of origin are introduced varies among member countries. Some (such as Germany) have initially banned the use of the new terms until the end of 2011 to avoid confusion. Nevertheless, they too must create the conditions to ensure that the new designations of origin are effectively protected when they are then released. Others (such as Italy) have already allowed the new terms to be used in marketing since the most recent white and red wine vintages. However, the EU regulation does not provide for a clear transition period according to the motto "old designations until 2011, only new designations as of 2012".

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