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Posted: Monday, 27 August 2018 10:26

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View Point: Italy-Australia Prosecco Debate hits Press

Aug 27: The simmering debate between Australia and Italy which legally lost the case against Australia making Prosecco in 2013 but still hopes to block the usage through the ongoing Free Trade Agreement negotiations since June 2018, rages on, writes Subhash Arora who has been following the battle for the last three years and predicts that Italy will have its way this time after the unexpected licking in the Tokaj case by Hungary a few years ago

After months of preparation, Australia and the European Union launched formal negotiations for a free trade agreement in mid-June this year. While this will affect many aspects of trade in both countries, some Australian winemakers are concerned about the implications of this agreement on a specific type of wine: Prosecco, according to a recent Report by Forbes earlier this week.

It is a hot topic for debate and the Report by Forbes could not be published at a better time. DelWine has already written about it several times in the past- last on August 4 issue of delWine and is pleased that it has been taken up by a prestigious international magazine like Forbes.

An earlier issue of delWine on 8 December, 2017 had also talked about a Report that Italy might again seek a Geographic Indicator (GI) in the country ahead of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and the EU. If successful, Australian wine producers would not be able to use the name Prosecco and this may have a huge impact on the country’s wine industry as the grape continues to grow in popularity worldwide, including Australia.

Prosecco growers in Australia have said they will defend their right to use the name once again. Fundamental to the issue is the registration of Prosecco as Prosecco DOC/DOCG in 2009 in Italy and EU. It must be made with Glera grape only (strictly speaking only 90%). Previously, the Italians used to popularly call the grape Prosecco. Anyone who grows the grape formerly known as Prosecco outside the DOC/DOCG cannot now use the word Prosecco on the label, if sold in EU.

Amazon : Millions of products at great pricesThe crux of the issue has been a court decision in 2013 which said that Prosecco was the name of the grape and not the region and it was being produced in Australia before 2009 when the name was changed to Glera. A point that was perhaps not highlighted well to the court was that Glera is one of the oldest Italian grape varieties and was in use at least as far back as in 1772 though many claim that the grape has been produced in Roman times as well. The former name Prosecco was taken from the name of the village near Treviso where the grape is claimed to have originated. A still version of Prosecco was made even before 1870’s when Carpené and Malvolti started producing the bubbly in Conegliano using the Tank method or Charmat method which implies second fermentation in the tank. The still wines are also being still produced and exported even now but the quantity is negligible compared to the sparkling variety that is widely known as Prosecco. 

Prosecco was traditionally used as the name for both the grape variety and the sparkling wine produced primarily from it. Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Prosecco di Conegliano and Prosecco di Valdobbiadene- all having DOC appellation (except Prosecco di Cartizze which was a DOCG even earlier). There used to be an IGT zone surrounding these areas. When the higher denomination DOCG was sought for the classic, hilly areas of Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene, it became a problem because the designation of origin has the same name.

That’s when the old synonym Glera was officially introduced for the variety when the DOCG status was approved in 2009. Glera ranks about 30th in importance among the country's 2,000 grape varieties and has 26 Synonyms- Prosecco being just one of them as listed in the universally accepted catalogue of vines- VIVC. The change was also made to reduce the possibility of sparkling wines of other origin being labelled as 'Prosecco' by using the grape variety's name.

Prosecco in Australia

Australian winemakers first planted this same variety in King Valley in the State of Victoria 20 years ago. The region has strong Italian heritage. Today it is the center of Australian Prosecco production. From the perspective of Australian vintners, the Italians changed the grape’s name arbitrarily without consulting international winemakers, just like the California vintners changed “Chardonnay” to “Gouais,” creating a region named Chardonnay, and legally restricting other regions from using the word "Chardonnay" on wine labels.

“Australian producers grow and market the grape variety by its correct name, Prosecco,” says Tony Battaglene, CEO of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia. “The term Glera, came only came about in 2009 when the EU changed rules there to control and restrict use of the name Prosecco in Europe.” The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) has stated its support for Australian winemakers arguing their right to label their sparkling wines as Prosecco. According to WFA, sales of Australian Prosecco escalated 50% last year, reaching AU $60 million in 2017. This may be only 1.5% of the country’s total wine value, estimated at AU$40 billion, the exponential growth highlights huge potential value for Prosecco.

Since they are also exporting the wines to the big markets of Italian Prosecco, UK and the US which get a majority chunk of the exports from around 600 million bottles produced last year, Italians feel it affects their sales and is not true representation of Prosecco. Whatever the arguments are on both sides, eventually there will be a trade off-as is usually the case in such negotiations. Italians may agree to the use of Prosecco for sales within Australia but will most likely not buckle down for exports to these markets. Australian Prosecco is currently being imported into India by Prestige Wines from De Bortoli-one of the families with Italian heritage an making it in King Valley.

Italians had to accept EU’s decision a few years ago when they were banned from using the name Tokai for their grapes in Friuli and Veneto although it had been used for over 150 years. But Hungary’s case was stronger in that they had put this as a condition before joining the EU but Italians are still seething with anger on that decision.

Time will tell which side the coin drops but for now both sides are strongly supporting their side, as expected. At the end of the day, it’s all about money, honey!!   

Subhash Arora

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