Sunday, June 13, 2010

Trying to Make Sense of New EU Rules Governing Wine and a couple of questions.

The EU has recently legislated new communal regulations regarding food and drink, and wines have not escaped the makeover. There was a lot of negativity in the industry, as you can well imagine, when the reforms were first proposed as every country scrambled to decode the regulations to figure out what the impact would be for them. Thankfully, the reforms also insure that traditional “best-practices” that currently offer such diversity in the Italian wine landscape for example, are preserved throughout the re-structuring.
I have read as many articles as I could find on the subject, which I have referenced below, and have summarized, and greatly simplified the amendments, which apply to the vineyard owner, the winemaker and the consumer.

The main reasons for the reform were to effectively deal with overproduction, to harmonize vineyard practices and winemaking rules, and to create more transparent labeling practices to make choices clearer for the consumer throughout all EU member states.
While Europe is still the biggest producer and exporter of wines, New World wines seem to be gaining greater market shares and this fact has led European winemakers and economists to squirm and look for ways to maintain and increase their foothold.

The first area that caught the eye of the Common Market Organization for Wine (wine CMO) was the wasteful surplus of wine due to overproduction. They have set out a plan to eliminate this surplus and equilibrate supply with demand. Every year Europe is left with large quantities of wine for which there is no market and they must then deal with costly decisions either to store or distill the surplus. Hence, they decided that a good way to discourage this practice is to eliminate distillation or storing subsidies and to encourage producers only to make wine in the amount that they can sell.

Overproduction is also directly related to over planting to which the following rules have been established with regard to the conversion and re-structuring of vineyards:
-grubbing up of unlawful plantings (literally pulling up vines) which according to the Official Journal of the EU “constitutes a source of unfair competitions and exacerbates the problems of the wine sector”. As well, there is a 3-year voluntary grubbing up scheme for producers who wish to turn their vineyards into other uses.
They have incorporated stricter rules and monitoring with respect to awarding planting rights or replanting rights
-maximum yields per hectare preserving the quality of the grape over quantity
-the grapes planted must be of the vitis vinifera species, the species native to Europe

The most salient regulation for winemakers seems to focus on the prohibition and/or limitation of the practice of chaptilisation (the addition of sucrose to a low-alcohol wine or use of concentrated musts in order to increase the natural alcohol strength of the wine) except in certain areas where achieving ripeness in the grapes (and thus minimum sugar content) is difficult due to climatic factors. In these areas, chaptilisation will have maximal limits: 2% for Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, and 1% for certain parts of France.
Why would this practice have come under the microscope? Well, some consider the artificial addition of sugar gives the wines a certain “blousy” unnatural effect (MacNeil, Karen: The Wine Bible). The regulations aim at improving the quality of wines.

Everyday consumers are often perplexed by the complicated and diverse labeling systems that don’t give the consumer a lot of information about what they are buying. Not only do rules governing quality vary from country to country, but some EU countries (France, Italy and Spain), label their quality wines for the terroir from which they come. In other words, the place of Origin and associated traditions and grapes varietals particular to that area, represent quality in some countries, while others govern their labeling purely on quality, unrelated to terroir, such as Germany.

Labeling rules have been simplified to allow more transparency for the consumer and must conform to the new labeling hierarchy as illustrated below. Each country will have the same categories.
The IGP wines (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, or PGI, Protected Geographical Indication) were formerly the IGT category of wines in Italy.
The DOP wines (Denominazione d’origine Protetta, or PDO, Protected Designation of Origin), which in Italy are the former DOCG and DOC wines, consolidated into one category.Before this reform, these terms only applied to food products such as cheese, some fruits and vegetables and olive oils. Now these terms apply to wines. IGP wines may also include the former table wines that had a Geographical indication. Table wines without the Geographical Origin would be delegated to the category of “Wines or wines without a geographical Indication”. Wines in this category will now be allowed to mention the grape variety and the vintage. The accuracy of this information will be monitored by authorities, and the list of grape varieties will be limited.
The new rules were legally adopted in March 2008, came into effect in Aug, 2008, but producers have until December 2010 to comply with the new labeling rules.

The question that comes to mind in all of this, and I admit that my research has been cursory, is how will the consolidated category of DOP wines make the distinction between the current 49 Italian DOCG's which are, as I understand, of superieor quality, to the more 300 DOC's?
And I have one more question related to will future superior Italian wines distinguish themselves? Perhaps, I've got to get away from the old categories. Perhaps, this time it will be left to the consumer to decide.
I welcome any comments, answers or clarificatons.

You may read the reforms in English at the following site - 61 pages

You may read the more concise and comprehensive EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mariann Fischer Boel’s explanation and justification for the reforms at
Both of the above were sources used for this article as well as

While the Italian wine pyramid in this article is my own drawing, the original comes from the following Italian site

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