European wine reforms: identity versus business?

05 Jul 2007

Ian Traynor and David Gow in Brussels for The Guardian

For the purveyors of fine wines, the chateau proprietors of Bordeaux or the Barolo-imbibers of Chiantishire, things will never quite be the same. The bad news from Brussels yesterday may have left them grasping for a stiff drink.

But for the industrial-scale producers of Australian Chardonnay or Californian Zinfandel flooding British supermarket shelves and squeezing out the pricier French and Italian wines, the news from the European commission was just as sobering. A new era is dawning for the wine makers, traders, and drinkers of Europe. The age of Europlonk.

Under plans to shake up the European wine industry unveiled yesterday, a vintner, say, in the Czech Republic or Bulgaria will be able to mix his wine with that of a grower 2,000km away in Portugal. The result will be cheap, perhaps quaffable. It will bear a new euro-label stipulating the grape variety and year. And it might turn the tide of New World conquest of the Old World’s supermarkets and off-licences.

“At the moment blending wines from EU countries is not possible,” said Michael Mann, the commission’s agriculture spokesman. “It would become possible under the proposals. At the low end of the market. We think that possibility should exist. You can call it European wine.”

Mr Mann was speaking for Mariann Fischer-Boel, the agriculture commissioner, who disclosed her radical scheme yesterday in an effort to keep up with the changing habits of Europe’s oenophiles.

But the classier makers of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, or Chianti are outraged at the package of measures, warning that they will dumb down the wine market instead of encouraging purveyors to fight for wine lovers overseas.

New labelling aimed at simplifying consumer information – a move designed to boost marketability of European wines – means grapes can be grown in Chianti, pressed in Stockholm and still called Chianti. “Simply not acceptable”, says Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, whose family has been refining Sangiovese red near Ravenna for generations.

The EU spends €1.3bn a year on wine production. The budget will stay the same, but be spent differently, with the emphasis shifting from subsidising vintners to promoting and marketing European wine. Hundreds of millions of euros in subsidies are to be scrapped to end the practice of paying wine makers to produce wine that no one buys and which is then turned into industrial spirit or road de-icer.

Read the full story in the guardian
Ian Traynor and David Gow in Brussels

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