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Nashik: The Falsification of a Terroir

Posted: Thursday, 02 May 2013 15:09

Nashik: The Falsification of a Terroir

May 02: In 2010, Haryana based National Horticulture Board and Nashik Valley Wine Producers Association (AIWPA), applied to the Chennai based National Geographical Indications Registry, for a Geographical Indication in the name of: “Nashik Valley Wine”. Rajiv Seth wonders if the producers and the growers of Nashik are justified in asking to get the protection under GI without an effective inspecting body or is it just a meaningless marketing ploy

Historically speaking, attributing a geographical or local name to an agro-food product with a specific quality, characteristic or reputation is by no means limited to Europe. It is an ancient practice used worldwide. However, in Asia, many specialties or more common products fit this definition, for example: the Indonesian coffees of Mandeling in Sumatra, Chinese Long Jin and Basmati rice in the sub-Himalayan region, Indian Darjeeling and Ceylon teas. All these goods have a name and a reputation that inspire trust and are recognized by consumers, who accept to pay the higher price. The link to the place of origin stems from the products’ history, the influence of the geographical environment on production and processing conditions and the local know-how used in the different stages of production.

The Tequila Twist

In 1974, Tequila, a Mexican national heritage beverage, became the first product to be awarded a DO in a developing country; it succeeded in acquiring worldwide status and soon the official establishment of Tequila as a GI efficiently boosted investments and markets, leading to worldwide exports and strong regional economic specialization. However, as the output increased eightfold in 20 years-from 23 million liters in 1970 to 190 million liters in 1999, there grew an uneven balance of power between distillers and agave producers within the supply chain. Soon this imbalance was reflected in the easing of the rules for agave sourcing strategies.

In the period 1999–2003, there was an agave shortage and consequently to counter the shortages, plantations were expanded in South Jalisco state. Soon the producers developed contract farming strategies in the neighboring regions. In the face of this crisis, would tequila production from an outsourced plant grown outside its defined GI boundaries, still be legitimate as a GI product?

Falsification of Tequila

In the years that followed, what was most amazing was that the production constraints of agave changed the very nature and the final composition of Tequila as a beverage. The first official standard (1949) specified that tequila was a 100% agave-based drink. Constraints were significantly eased owing to the scarcity of agaves and the ratio of agave required in the distillation was reduced to 70% in 1964, then to 51% in 1970. In 1976, the agave production area was extended to nearly 3 million hectares. For some, this relaxation of rules means acceptance of adulteration in the guise of winning over new consumers.

The reason for this official encouragement policy to the disguised adulteration practices is that the Tequila Regulatory Board hinges not on agave producers but on distillers who operate through consolidation and buyouts. Four firms, three of which are subsidiaries of the largest multinationals of the spirits sector, currently control about two-thirds of the tequila market. Thus, decision making and marketing policy leverage were gradually transferred from the regional producers to this big multinational firm and its subsidiaries that control the export markets. The influence of these firms on the system may explain the recent failure to adopt a law in Mexico that intended to make tequila bottling compulsory in the region of origin.

Case of Champagne

By the turn of the nineteenth century, the technology for making sparkling wines became common and the product was being imitated in many regions and countries. The Champagne growers were worried about losing the reputation of their distinct product and the livelihood. The local response was to turn to Terroir, since vigneron demanded some security and wanted to retain the collective proprietary rights to the name of Champagne by linking the taste of Champagne to the soil.

Therefore, “regional agricultural interests demanded a system of appellations d'origine [AOC]—state-sanctioned controls of the use of names that evoked a geographic place of origin. Under pressure from the provinces, a series of bills were introduced in the National Assembly between 1905 and 1908 to protect regional appellations by ending adulteration and fraud within the wine industry”. This legislation unleashed an intense debate that extended beyond wine production to include other foodstuffs linked to a delimited geographical area, what became later known as “Terroir”. (Guy, 2001: 164)

The need to link the soils and grapes was particularly acute for growers in the Champagne region as traditionally champagne is a blended wine, and large family estates dominated the business as négociants, responsible for crushing, blending, aging, and marketing the wines. In Champagne the vineyards were highly fragmented and most growers owned small plots of less than a hectare of vine resulting in their dependency on a small number of firms that possessed large capital and skills to market the champagne. The small numbers of firms to handle such large volume of Champagne trade are indicative of concentration of power within the hands of a few business houses. The growing power of these Houses which often manipulated the grape prices, worried the growers.

As we know champagne is a blended wine and the producers in Champagne are dependent on hundreds of small growers and the different champagne districts produce grapes of varying characteristics that are blended by the champagne houses to create their distinctive house styles for their specific Brands. Moreover, some of the characteristics of the wine of each is essential to the classic champagne blend. Thus, Champagne producers’ claimed that these blends which belong to different champagne terroirs are key in producing wines that are so unique in their characteristics that they cannot be duplicated or imitated anywhere in the world; therefore they demanded that champagne as a name should be protected and producers outside the region should be restricted to use the name for the likes of other effervescent wines produced outside the region.

In the same context, in 1911, troops were called to stop the destruction of large quantities of wines that had been brought from outside the Champagne region to Reims and Epernay for making champagne. The growers of the region were naturally alarmed that if producers continued making champagne from the wines that do not belong to the champagne Terroir, the reputation of champagne will be affected and possibly destroyed.

Nashik Valley
In light of the above historical background, let us now explore what is happening in Nashik Valley. It is common knowledge that the wine producers in Nashik Valley purchase grapes from the neighboring regions mainly Pune, Sangli and as far as Karnataka. Not only this, a few producers even import bulk wines from not only the contract wineries in the neighboring regions but also as bulk from other countries and still bottle this under the name of Nasik Valley Wine Appellation which is now a GI.

Last year in September 2012, a delegation led by none other than the chairman of Indian Grape Processing Board, Jagdish Holkar paid a visit to the union industry minister Anand Sharma, and the matter of importing bulk wine came up during the discussion. On one occasion, the minister categorically said that the producers cannot label the imported bulk wine as Indian wine and this is punishable under law as this amounts to a fraud regarding the Origin. The short meeting did not yield any desirable result and terminated abruptly.

What is even more surprising is that the Chennai based National Geographical Indications Registry did not insist on a viticultural zoning exercise and typically relied on the political boundaries of the region before granting the GI status to Nashik Valley Wine. Moreover, the task of viticultural zoning should have been handled long before, since India has a very advanced viticulture institute namely National Research Centre for Grapes in Pune. It is strange that the institute failed to relate the typicity of the soil to the Terroir and relied completely on the political boundaries despite being aware that awarding a GI designation to a product and by association to its region of origin, requires a very strong link between production, place and soil. Evaluation of the strength of this link depends directly on the concept of Terroir which is the very basis of granting a GI.

The Missing Link

If you read the Geographical Indication Journal of Government of India, on page 13 you will find the Specification section which states that “the Nashik Valley Wine is unique in taste & color and reflects the Terroir of the region in its characteristics”. Further there is a mention of vineyards which specify that the wine should be produced from vineyards with a max yield of 8 tons/acre. Surprisingly,  there is no mention that the wine should only be produced with grapes of the vineyards in Nashik region.

The very basic link of soil and place is missing in the GI registry itself!

Nashik Valley vs. Champagne

Let us compare this with the regulations in Appellation of Champagne where Rules mandate that all Champagne grapes are grown within the region and designate the specific areas where vines may be planted. The la Champagne viticole, the legally defined Champagne wine-growing region, was established in 1919 and is 34,500 hectares in size. Of the region, only 31,050 hectares are suitable for planting.

The legal ceiling imposed on the supply of Champagne increases the prestige of the wines, but also encourages fraudulent production practices both inside and outside the district. Within Champagne, houses may be tempted to use grapes imported from other regions in their wine, as occurred in the early twentieth century. Only through inspection and careful monitoring of production can the threat of imported grapes be averted. The CIVC recognizes this potential harm and as a result, “. . . there are stringently drawn safeguards against the fraudulent use of wine from other areas, and CIVC see to it that all regulations are strictly observed: even unfermented champagne must not be moved from one parish to another in the region without an official permit.” This is what it means to protect a specific Terroir.

Protecting the GI

Over the past 15 years, the Darjeeling tea producers have taken various steps to protect their product from threats emanating in the absence of additional protection. During the ‘last four years, the Indian Tea Board has spent approximately RS 9,400,000 (US$ 200,000) on legal and registration expenses, on costs of hiring an international watch agency and fighting infringements in overseas jurisdiction’. It is up to the Indian Grape Processing Board to take the cue and decide on how to create an inspecting body in the wake of forthcoming Indian wine regulations. Of course, the body has to be separate and independent as the big producers already have their nominees elected to the Executive Body of IGPB.

As always, will the EC again resort to an expedient bureaucratic solution? Only time will tell.

Rajiv Seth

The article expresses views of the author and not necessarily of delWine-editor

Tag: Nasik Valley Wine



Ajay Says:

Dear Mr. Seth, I have gone through your article on “Nashik: The Falsification of a Terroir”. You have attempted very relevant questions. In several meetings I have also raised same at different forums. When the wine made in Nashik, from the grapes collected from different vineyards of different regions can’t be declared as Nashik Wine. The differences in wine quality can be observed when the grapes collected from a single vineyard having different soil parent materials. Only scientific evidences can say about origin of wine or specificity of wine from a particular region. But Chennai based National Geographical Indications Registry is giving the GI without consulting any researcher or research institute who are working on specific areas. I am very particular about your questions on National Research Centre for Grapes. This research centre is working as per mandate and attempting the problems of grape growers of different states. For initiating a big project on development of GIs based on scientific evidences, adequate fund is required. For this purpose a proposal was submitted to different agencies, but not considered for funding.

Posted @ May 25, 2013 10:40


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