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The EU wine market reform, which came into force on 1 August 2009, focuses on the principle of origin in wine designation. According to this, a wine is of better quality the more narrowly its geographical origin can be defined. The new regulations distinguish between wines with protected designation of origin (PDO), wines with protected geographical indication (PGI) and wines without protected designation of origin. We explained the background and terminology of the reform in detail in the first part of our series of articles.

The new wine designation law is relatively easy to implement in countries such as Italy, France and Spain, as they use the Romance designation system for their wines, which is also based on the principle of origin. Germany and Austria, on the other hand, use the Germanic designation system, which is based on the quality principle. Here, wine quality is determined by the physiological ripeness of the grapes, which can be determined by the must weight: the higher the must weight (in Germany measured in degrees Oechsle, in Austria in degrees KMW for Klosterneuburger Mostwaage), the higher the quality of the wine according to this definition.

Following this approach, the predicates for quality wines were developed. Which predicate a wine may bear depends on the must weight, i.e. the relative density of the grape must from which it was produced. In this respect, it is irrelevant for the wine quality indicated by the predicate where the grapes come from - whether from a specific site, even a top site, or from a larger geographical area.

The diversity of the wines is also reflected in the predicates. (Photo: DWI)

However, this is precisely the approach of the principle of origin, which assumes that the natural conditions at special, spatially limited locations (sites) particularly favour the growth, ripeness and aromatic character of the grapes. The concept of terroir is closely related to this. Thus, the implementation of the new designation law in Germany and Austria is fundamentally more difficult than in countries with a Romance influence, since theoretically a completely new assessment system for wine quality would have to be introduced. However, both countries have found solutions to the problem or at least a way of dealing with it.


Admittedly, the vineyard area in Germany is also divided into certain geographical units, from the growing region to areas and large vineyards to the single vineyard. These terms are defined in the German wine law (section 1 § 2 f.). Based on this classification, German wine law recognises Landwein and quality wine regions. The 26 Landwein regions are defined in section 1 § 2 of the Wine Ordinance(WeinV), the Qualitätsweingebiete correspond to the 13 German wine-growing regions named in section 1 § 3 of the Wine Law(WeinG).

As early as the mid-1980s, there was a first initiative in the Rheingau for a classification of top vineyards. At the beginning of the 2000s, this led to the site classification of the Association of Prädikat Wine Estates (VDP), which distinguishes between Erste Lagen, Klassifizierte Lagen (Ortsweine) and Gutsweine. In this respect, the approach underlying the EU wine market reform is not completely unknown in Germany either.

The VDP's Erste Lage logo stands for top growths. (Photo: VDP)

The VDP classification already incorporates the principle of origin, but it applies only to the association's member wineries and is not regulated by wine law. For the Rheingau alone, the quality designation "Erstes Gewächs" is anchored in the wine law of the state of Hesse.

Integral designation system

The reform is now being implemented in German wine law in the form of a so-called integral designation system, which includes elements of both the principle of origin (Roman system) and the proven quality principle (Germanic system). Rudolf Nickenig, Secretary General of the German Winegrowers' Association (DWV), explains the background: "After intensive discussions, the German wine industry, the federal government and the states agreed not to let the elements from the Romanesque agricultural law and the German wine designation law run alongside each other, but to develop an integral designation system. This resulted in a reversal of the previous quality-origin relationship: until now, the quality category was in the foreground and the indication of origin in the second place. In future, wines must fulfil defined minimum quality requirements in order to be allowed to bear a certain indication of origin."

According to the new system, the previous Landweingebiete will be converted into protected geographical indications and the quality wine regions will become protected designations of origin. The designations of origin laid down in German wine law are thus, in a sense, automatically recognised as European Community trademarks and protected against misuse and imitation. Conversely, this transfer of categories means that a German wine with a protected designation of origin must be a quality wine in the sense of the wine law and a wine with a protected geographical indication must be a Landwein in the sense of wine law. Accordingly, the respective specifications for minimum must weights, maximum yields per hectare and grape varieties stipulated by the law apply.

New designations prohibited until 2012

Narrower designations of origin, i.e. site, place and area names, may continue to be used additionally for wines with a protected designation of origin, according to DWV. The same applies to the predicates (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein). At present, the Landwein or quality wine region and, if applicable, the Prädikat level must be indicated on the bottle label as the designation of origin. The new designations "protected geographical indication" and "protected designation of origin" may not be used in Germany until the end of 2011 in order to avoid confusion. From 2012 onwards they may additionally appear on the label, but only in written form. The Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) explains: "Until the end of 2011, Germany prohibited the use of the terms 'protected designation of origin' or 'protected geographical indication' for wines bearing the name of a specific wine-growing region or land wine region. After that, however, i.e. from 1 January 2012, according to EU law, these terms would in principle have to be indicated on all wines with a protected indication of origin, i.e. on all quality and regional wines, unless the winemaker instead uses a so-called traditional term such as quality wine, Prädikat wine, Spätlese or Auslese in the labelling."

The quality in the glass is based more on the origin. (Photo: DWI)

Accordingly, the indications of the previous German wine labelling law are also protected under EU law as so-called traditional terms. In the course of implementing the wine market reform, the German wine law was revised in January 2011, followed by the wine ordinance in September. "Since, after the amendment of the Wine Ordinance, every German quality or country wine [...] must bear at least one traditional term, nothing will necessarily change for our winegrowers and consumers as of next year. However, vintners are free to additionally indicate the terms 'protected designation of origin' or 'protected geographical indication' on their quality or regional wines - whereby an abbreviation (PDO/PGI) would be inadmissible. This means that from 2012, wines can be marketed with these terms, but they do not have to", the BMELV statement continues. However, there is one major change resulting from the reform: The previous category of table wine is no longer applicable. It will be replaced by "wine without protected designation of origin", which, in contrast to the previous table wine, may also bear vintage and grape variety indications, which, however, does not upgrade it with regard to the qualitative specifications.

Producers can apply for protection of origin

Currently, it is being examined to what extent the protected designation of origin can also be used for origins narrower than the growing region. Federal Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner sees room for manoeuvre in this regard "in the case of the so-called smaller geographical units such as, for example, the large and individual vineyards. According to EU law, individual producer groups can apply for protection of origin," she said. Accordingly, winegrowers could "join forces with like-minded people and, for example, have a certain vineyard site protected. To do this, they would have to agree on common minimum criteria and thus highlight the special and distinctive features of this particular site. It must be determined how high the yield may be, which grape variety may be cultivated or also which specifications are to be made for the oenological processes. Unity is then required among all those involved so that the project does not fail. These specifications would naturally have to meet stricter requirements than the already existing criteria for the entire cultivation area. Only then would the basis for a corresponding profiling be given, which would be oriented towards the concept of 'terroir'. By 31 December 2011, the EU member states must submit the technical specifications (designation, area delimitation, wine description, maximum yield per hectare, grape varieties, winemaking methods) for all names of origin to be protected to the EU Commission, otherwise the international trademark protection for such an origin will lapse.

The Winegrowers' Association has already been campaigning since the spring of 2011 for a further amendment to the wine law to give the Länder the option of setting qualitatively higher requirements for the use of narrower indications of origin (areas, municipalities, sites). DWV President Norbert Weber sees this as "an important instrument to raise the profile of smaller origins". In addition, DWV advocates excluding the indication of certain grape varieties on the label for wines without a protected indication of origin. "The image of certain growing regions or areas is closely linked to certain grape varieties, so that the indication of these grape varieties for simple wines with the designation 'German wine' is detrimental to the profiling of wines with a protected designation of origin," says Weber.

Consumers need to be prepared for only a few changes in terminology when buying wine. (Photo: DWI)


The current nomenclature in Austrian wine law is similar to that in Germany. There are three wine-growing regions (Weinland, Steirerland, Bergland) that are permitted as Landwein origins and 16 wine-growing regions that function as Qualitätswein origins. Austria also has predicates (Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Ausbruch, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein, Strohwein), which are based on must weight. In Austria, Kabinett is not a predicate, but merely a higher quality wine level that has to meet specific requirements regarding must weight, alcohol and residual sugar content. Austrian specialities are the designations Bergwein (depending on the slope of the site), Sturm (analogous to the German Federweißen) and Gemischter Satz, whereby the latter two terms are already protected under EU law.

In addition, the designation "Districtus Austriae Controllatus" (DAC) was introduced in 2002 for quality wines typical of their origin. The current seven DAC areas coincide with the boundaries of the respective wine-growing regions of the same name (Kamptal, Kremstal, Traisental, Weinviertel) except for three, which are within the wine-growing region of Burgenland. For each DAC appellation, specific specifications apply with regard to grape varieties, alcohol content, grape condition and use of wood, as well as different categories (Classic, Reserve, etc.). Austria has thus already anchored an origin-based wine designation system in national wine law, even if it is Germanic in principle.

New designations to be replaced by traditional ones

In the course of the wine market reform - theoretically - also in Austria country wines will become wines with protected geographical indication and quality wines will become wines with protected designation of origin. However, as already mentioned, the EU regulation on the reform provides that member states may also replace the new terms with traditional ones. Austria uses this possibility to have existing national wine designations protected under EU law and thus continue to allow their use, similar to Germany, which benefits from this for its integral designation system, only much more rigorously.

Austrian wines will also bear the traditional designations in the future. (Photo: ÖWM/Bernhard Schramm)

The Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture (BMLFUW) clarifies: "With the new EU wine market regulation VO 479/2008, the terms 'quality wine of specified regions' and 'table wine with designation of origin', which were valid until then, were replaced by PDO and PGI". Nevertheless, nothing changes in the designation of Austrian wines, as "in Austria the designations PDO and PGI are replaced by the established designations such as Qualitätswein, Landwein, DAC and the Prädikats by wine law. Since in Austria currently the DAC regulations also affect more and more wines [...], the consumer would be quite confused by the introduction of a quasi third 'category' (PGI and PDO in addition to DAC and quality wine/country wine)." Only in the case of table wine there is a change in Austria: "Due to the new EU Regulation 479/2008 it became 'wine', and it is allowed to indicate the variety and the vintage (this is, however, the same for the entire EU and not specific to Austria). And there is one more tiny change: Since 'Sturm' is now a traditional term protected throughout the EU, it must be accompanied by an appellation of origin (namely the Landwein origins)," the ministry says.

Better protection for European origins

Apart from these adjustments, Austria has no plans to apply the new wine appellations. They are and will remain prohibited, since according to the Wine Act (Section 1 § 9 ff.) traditional terms replace the "Community law sales designations" PGI and PDO and the existing DAC system, in the opinion of the BMFLUW, sufficiently corresponds to the principle of origin. To this end, the DAC system is to be further expanded.

Nevertheless, the Ministry is convinced that the new designations will improve the international protection of European origins as a whole - even if Austria will not use them itself. It now remains to be seen what report the EU Commission will present after 2012 to review the reform. The German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) sees itself on the safe side in this respect: With the wine regulation amended in September, "the EU requirements have been fully implemented. So far, no changes are on the horizon in the context of the evaluation of the wine market reform at the end of 2012."

To the article "EU wine market regulation - Part 1: The new wine designation law - terms and background".

To the article "EU wine market regulation - Part 3: The new wine labelling law in Italy".

To the article "EU wine market regulation - Part 4: The new wine labelling law in France".

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