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The Case of La Rioja vs. La Rioja

Posted: Monday, 16 May 2011 14:18

The Case of La Rioja vs. La Rioja

May 16: In the legal case of La Rioja Spain vs. La Rioja Argentina, the Federal Court in Buenos Aires has rejected the claim of the world famous North-western Spanish wine region, declaring that the Argentine province differentiates its wines sufficiently for the international market, leaving no cause of confusion.

Wines from Spanish La Rioja are not only well-known in India but throughout the world for their high quality and long history. The records show that they were recognised by the King of Navarre and Aragon in 1102. Their increasing international growth slowed down in the nineties only because of the continuously escalating prices. The producers of the region were worried that the Argentine La Rioja might not have been a factor as a speed breaker. 

In 1999 the Regulatory Council for the La Rioja doc started putting diplomatic pressure on Argentina but had to finally resort to a law-suit in Argentina. However, Judge Rita Maria Ailan ruled last month that the Argentine province differentiated its wines sufficiently for the international market by using the name 'La Rioja Argentina' thus proving its intention of not creating any confusion and benefiting from it.

Jose Luis Lapuente, secretary general of the Rioja Regulatory Council in Spain, reportedly said that the Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Council) might still appeal the verdict and would continue to apply diplomatic pressure over the issue. According to him the market research suggests that nearly 60 per cent of consumers identify wines of La Rioja Argentina with those of Rioja.

It is interesting to note that, as La Rioja in Argentina argued, the confusion was unlikely since in Spain where red wine is very popular the majority of grape variety used is Tempranillo while in Argentina, it is the white Torrontes.

Ironically, the genesis of the alleged confusion is in Spain. It was a Spaniard, Juan Ramirez de Velazco, who founded the city of Todos Los Santos de la Nueva Rioja in Argentina in 1591 and named it as a mark of respect for the region of his birth in Spain. The Spanish were also responsible for introducing vineyards in this area.

Javier Tineo, Minister of Production for La Rioja Argentina, echoes the sentiments, "If we look at history, the mess is the fault of the Spaniards, who took the name to the province. And it was they who brought us the wine tradition."

Wines from the La Rioja region of Argentina have started to enjoy success in Britain and other northern European countries as well as in the United States and the Spanish La Rioja producers are worried.

The Argentine province produced 60 million liters of wine in 2010 with exports totaling $14m. La Rioja in Spain produces around 250 million liters of wine annually, from 14,000 vineyards. Around 85% of its wines are red, the more popular, unique variety. However the Argentine province with 56.000 sq kms of area towers over Rioja in Spain with an area of around 3200 sq kms only. According to Decanter, La Rioja in Spain has about 61,000hA of vineyards owned by over 600 wine estates while La Rioja in Argentina has 8,200hA under vine.

The naming of wines and regions has also caused problems between many countries over the years. Champagne, Sherry, Tokaj, Macedonia, Port, Pisco, Brunello di Montalcino are but a few of the regions/wines which have been successful in varying degrees to protect their rights.

In India, where the people still consider every sparkling wine as Champagne and for whom the ‘real’ Port is the ‘Goan Port’ costing from Rs.70-Rs.120 a bottle, a  fraction of even the Indian premium wines, could not be bothered with the fight at this stage. Most importers and hospitality persons contacted said they knew only of La Rioja from Spain and that it was a good quality Spanish wine while none of the hospitality persons knew anything about La Rioja of Argentina. To them Argentina is Malbec and Malbec is Argentina. Don’t cry for them, Argentina.

 Tags: Spain, Argentina, la Rioja


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