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Posted: Saturday, 04 August 2018 23:51

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Bubble Trouble for Prosecco still not over in Australia

Aug 04: Although King Valley in Australia continues to make Prosecco after winning the legal case against Italy, the ongoing tussle between Italy and Australia has taken twist with Italians putting pressure on Australia as a pre-condition for the ongoing negotiation of the EU-Australian Free Trade Agreement, writes Subhash Arora who foresees a repeat of Tokai issue that resulted in Friuli (Italy) banned from using the label in favour of Hungary, and Australia should also start looking for an alternative for naming the bubbly

Italian winemakers seem set to declare war on Australian wineries offering their own brand of Prosecco. Queensland University of Technology professor in intellectual property and innovation law, Matthew Rimmer, says the light, dry, sparkling wine will be a major test for Geographical Indications, or GIs, for food and wine under the proposed new Australia-European Free Trade Agreement.

Australia and the European Union are in talks to renegotiate their free trade agreement. The first round of talks was held in Brussels three weeks ago. (India and EU also had the initial phase of such talks from 2007 to 2013 with no tangible results. The new NDA government in 2014 had said it was keen to re-start the negotiations but there has been no tangible progress; in the meantime, there are national elections again in 2019 and it is unlikely that any progress will take place till then.

The GI is a name or sign on a range of products that corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin, and certifies that the product possesses certain characteristics or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin.

Australia has provided special protection for Champagne and other European wine regions in the past. But the current problem arose because the Italian Prosecco producers shifted the wine’s name from one of a grape variety to that of geographical location. Before 2009 when the current GI Prosecco DOC and DOCG came into existence, the Glera grape-a minimum of 90% of which has to be used to make Prosecco by Charmat method, used to be known as Prosecco as was the wine. With growing popularity of the wine globally, Italian producers sought a GI and got it from the EU.

In the meanwhile, Australians many of whom were of Italian descent started producing the Prosecco grape in the 1990’s in King Valley and it became very popular, selling around US $20m worth of it last year alone.

It’s not that Australia does not respect GIs. Besides the Champagne example there have been litigations about the domestic GIs as well. Professor Rimmer says, “We’ve seen litigation in the past over the Australian GI boundaries, for example, in Coonawarra and the King Valley - as well as tension over other regions such as the Hunter Valley and the Margaret River.”

Professor Rimmer says Australia well understands the importance of protecting the branding of regional foods, and has a distinctive model in relation to geographical indication.“We’re not as prescriptive as the EU,” he said. “It’s not just about the region in which the wine is made but it’s also the methods of how you make wine.'  

To watch Austalian interest and interpretation of the ongoing tussle, watch an interesting video on Youtube by Prof. Mathew Rimmer on Prosecco Wars.

“The Italians are trying to put pressure on, not only Australia but they also need to pressurize their own European Commission which is doing the negotiations, so they can emphasise how important it is to Italy to have a win on this,” says Tony Battaglene, chief executive of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia. He worries that the separate Australia-EU Wine Trade Agreement will also be incorporated into the trade talks. “There’s no doubt that they will be trying to threaten, coerce, and  put pressure on our government to give up our right to use a number of grape varieties.

According to the Report published earlier in delWine, an Australian court had ruled in favour of the local producers to continue making Prosecco from the Prosecco grapes. Italians are now using the FTA renewal as a bargaining card to ensure that Australian government succumbs to their pressure. Of course, it will be for the Aussies to extract something in lieu from them.

Till then King Valley continues to produce Prosecco and the debate over whether Australia can produce Prosecco which is now a GI, remains to be seen. The so-called Prosecco war carries on, in the meantime.

In the final analysis, the issue will have to be resolved with one side sacrificed, as happened in the case of Hungary and Italy (Friuli) where both the EU nations were at loggerheads on the issue of  Tocai grape which had been in existence for over 150 years in Friuli and the Hungarian sweet (not only) wine Tokaj. However, Hungary felt very strongly about their Tokaj and apparently made it an issue for joining the EU. At the end, Friuli producers grudgingly had to lose the battle, for the larger interest of Italy and the EU.

Will Australia sacrifice Prosecco from King Valley for the larger interest of the nation, will be seen before the talks on FTA end.

Subhash Arora

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