The Wines, They Are A-Changin’? The New EU Regulations

Ξ June 21st, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Wine History, Wine News, Winemakers |

How familiar are you with the terms Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)? These are two of the European Quality schemes for agricultural products and have been in common use since 1992 for food (primarily cheese), however get used to seeing them more often as, from 1st August 2009, they are label designations that will become a requirement on all wine made within the European Union (EU).
 
The labelling of wine is just one of the changes in a massive overhaul of the EU wine regulations being overseen by the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Denmark’s Mariann Fischer Boel (who placed 3rd in Decanter’s 2009 Power List of the most influential people in the wine-world for specifically that reason). The changes are designed to improve the efficiency, quality and competitiveness of 21 winemaking nations in total holding >40% of the world’s vines and making 2/3 of its wine.
 
There’s been some comment of the changes already; Decanter.com seemed to be harbingers of doom with their 2008 story proclaiming “From August 2009, DOP and IGP will be only the appellations allowed in Europe under the new rules”, and earlier this year “no more DOC, no more DOCG… no more (AOC)” appeared in the magazine itself (page 23 of their Italian Wines 2009 supplement). The head of the German Wine Institute Monika Reule even stated in August 2008 that “The whole German wine sector is unanimous in the protest against the suggestions of the EU Commission”, but is this melodrama warranted?
 
The 129 Articles of Council Regulation 479/2008 have been in place since mid 2008 and were the result of years of work to try and correct some of the problems in wine production across Europe that have led to overplanting, overproduction, costly market intervention distillation schemes and a lack of competitiveness as the New World catches up (and in many cases overtakes) the Old.
The regulations cover;
-Gradual removal of subsidies for distilling surplus or low quality production.
-National support programs to improve vineyard & production quality and market competition.
-“Grubbing up” to take out of production surplus, uncompetitive vines.
-The end of current restrictive planting rights by 2016 (2018 for some countries)
-Approval of Winemaking practices to be transferred the European Commission
-Updated and simplified labelling with use of the PDO and PGI schemes
-Restricted Chaptalisation
 
The process of change began in 2006 and, as to be expected with a Government covering 27 member states, the proposals initially put forward went through significant changes before final approval.
-French and Italian lobbying resulted in agreements for fewer vineyards to be grubbed up (175,000ha instead of 400,000ha) and the continuation (with gradual reduction) of surplus distillation schemes instead of its outright cessation.
-Germany, Austria and Hungary put pressure to ensure that the initial plan to completely outlaw chaptalisation was amended to take account of the cooler climate countries where sweetening is often needed or traditional to the wine style.
-Wines outside the PDO and PGI schemes are able to use variety and vintage on their labels.
 
However diluted the regulations were Fischer Boel still commented in December 2007 that “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we have ended up with a well-balanced agreement.”
 
Although regulation of winemaking practices moves into the Euro Bureaucratic domain the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (IWO/OIV) will remain the premier body for winemaking techniques, with the EU carrying out assessment of OIV approved practices for inclusion into their lists.
 
However it is the labelling regulations that have caught the attention of most people so far, both consumers and producers alike. Exactly what do the PDO and PGI schemes mean for the wine designations we are all familiar with, and for the wine we will be drinking in the future?
Both have a concept of terroir – that there is a connection to where they are from at the various stages of production;
 
Designation of Origin is defined in article 34 of the regulations as “the name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country …that complies with the following requirements;
-its quality and characteristics are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment with its inherent natural and human factors
-the grapes from which it is produced come exclusively from this geographical area
-its production takes place in this geographical area
-it is obtained from vine varieties belonging to Vitis vinifera”

 
Each European country its own name for DOP, with the ones you’re most likely to come across being AOP in France (Appellation d’Origine Protégée), DOP in Spain (Denominación de Origen Protegida) and Italy (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) and gU in Germany (geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung). Apart from Germany the others are similar to the current AOC and DOC certifications.
 
Geographic Indication is defined as “referring to a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country …which complies with the following requirements;
-it possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that geographical origin
-at least 85 % of the grapes used for its production come exclusively from this geographical area
-its production takes place in this geographical area
-it is obtained from vine varieties belonging to Vitis vinifera or a cross between Vitis vinifera species and other species of the genus Vitis.”

 
IGP is used in France (Indication Géographique Protégée), Spain ( Indicatión Geográfica Protegida) & Italy (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) and Germany goes it alone again with gGA (geschützte Geografischa Angabe). It is effectively the same idea as the IGT currently used in Italy for regional wines.
 
It is likely that the PDOs will relate directly to the key AOCs, DOCs etc. and that many of the regional designations will stay the same as well, although sub-zones are not supported. Italy seems to have documented the changes it expects the most with its current 470 DOCGs, DOCs and IGTs being rationalised into 182 DOPs and IGPs, as reported in Decanter.
 
However the regulations also suggest the effects of these changes may not be as radical as some expect;
“Well-established traditional national quality-labelling schemes will be kept” and can be used on the label to indicate what the new DOP or IGP is replacing (don’t expect any of the old terminology to disappear from the bottle any time soon).
“In order to preserve the particular quality characteristics of wines …. member States should be allowed to apply more stringent rules in that respect”. The EU regulations are minimum requirements, with individual countries able to regulate over and above them to preserve their own quality traditions.
 
The regulations go on, and on, for some time, however I recommend you to browse the pages, especially towards the end, as there is a very comprehensive definition and terminology section covering most aspects of viticulture and vinification. I was also intrigued why the obscure grape varieties Noah, Othello, Isabelle, Jacquez, Clinton and Herbemont are specifically prohibited by the EU (apparently wine made from them is classed as toxic due to high levels of methanol).
 
Already some producers are embracing the new rules. WineAlley.com reported last November on the small Loire VDQS of Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, on the Bay of Biscay west of Muscadet, applying for IGP status because “This wine category offers flexibility that fits well with what the Gros Plant offers…” and “…we want to increase our grape varieties (and) this project has better chances within IGP (rather) than in the AOP category” according to Jean-Michel Morille, vice-president of the producer’s Union.
 
I asked Frédéric Chaudière of Château Pesquié in the Côtes du Ventoux on his opinion of the new regulations. He seemed comfortable with the changes, “it is coming soon but we have not had (much) information. (The) AOC will become AOP, focusing on the idea of a precisely delimited origin (apart from the change of letter we remain very close to AOC). …the real revolution is for what will replace Vin de Table, which we call “Vin sans IG” as it will now be “Vin de France” and (it is allowed) to put vintage and varietals when before it was impossible.”
 
With just over a month to go before the full implementation of 479/2008, Mariann Fischer Boel’s brave new world for Old World wine, it seems that, for the moment at least, things will not be changing that much. I will be on the lookout for my first PDO or PGI labelled wine some time in 2010, possibly on a fresh Vinho Verde or other early drinking white, but I suspect the contents will taste no different for the name change. However the longer lasting effects of the regulations are intended to improve the competitiveness of winemakers in the EU, make it easier to understand what you’re buying and, hopefully, the quality of what goes in the bottle.
 
Greybeard.

 

One Response to ' The Wines, They Are A-Changin’? The New EU Regulations '

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  1. Greybeard said,

    on August 2nd, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I see that Decanter has published an article in September’s edition on the same news, by Victoria Daskal (who contributes to JancisRobinson.com). Although I prefer mine (I am biased) her compact piece has a different take on 2 areas;
    - that the 182 “new” Italian DOP & IGP designations is incorrect, although no additional information to clarify what is.
    - That new D.O. & G.I. designations can be ommitted from the label if an existing AOC, DOC etc. is in place (although again, no references, and I did not interperet that from my read of the E.U. regulations).

    Otherwise it’s a good article, as you’d generally expect from Decanter – even if it is a little late!

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