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11.2009

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Harvey Finkel

European regulators are shooting themselves in the foot, yet again. To begin with, France’s INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) is reportedly set to ban mention of grape variety from Alsace labels. When I mentioned this to a seasoned and wise international wine merchant, an éminence grise, he exclaimed, “Insane!”, an opinion probably unfair to the mentally afflicted. He and I agreed that this is another case of theory overruling practicality. Dare I utter the word “ideologue”? If the INAO’s purpose is to stimulate sales, I can assure it that this stupidity will accomplish just the opposite. The wines of Alsace are a distinctly worthy group, but not an easy sell as it is. Removal of vital varietal designation will be a small disaster. (They do, however, especially in these warmer times, need some indication of sweetness, remembering that it is not the sugar concentration alone that determines how sweet a wine tastes.) What about vineyards that grow more than one variety? What about the impossible position of the consumer without sufficient information? I am informed that 2OO vignerons in Alsace, including such notables as Trimbach, Zind Humbrecht and Weinbach, are protesting.

The reports have become confusing, perhaps because the situation is confused. Now another source suggests that what will be finally banned is mention of the Alsatian varietals riesling, gewürztraminer and sylvaner from labels of wines classified as Vin de France, the new, enlightened transmogrification of the familiar Vin de Table.

The EU, as of August 1, has upset the classification of wines under its purview. Confusingly, the previously used system can be retained in addition to the equally confusing new one. There are two new overarching divisions. PDO (protected designation of origin) requires that all grapes come from the specified region. PGI (protected geographical indication) mandates only 85 percent, as long as the other 15 percent come from the same country. In Italy, for example, the two divisions are just the same, as best I can tell, as DOC and IGT, respectively. Great improvement! I suppose the details will devil us. Is there anything of substance here, or is it just a different brand of alphabet soup?

European commissioner for agriculture and rural development Mariann Fischer Boel, the chief gnome, states that “the wide-ranging reform is intended to give producers the tools they need to recapture the initiative from . . . their competitors in the New World.” (I wonder how much she knows and cares about wine.) I wonder why bureaucrats can’t keep hands off. The producers, the trade in general, and consumers, in that circus called “the market”, eventually straighten things out without stultifying, confusing, oft-winked-at overregulation.

I predict that the EU’s meddling will accomplish, at best, nothing much, at worst, the opposite of its stated purpose, a balance even more in favor of New World wines. When made where and how they ought to be, European wines still set the standards – take it from there. Changing regulations will not help.

What a schizophrenic world! Member governments, including France and Italy, seem to be going prohibitionistic, while the EU is ineptly trying to stimulate the drinks industry. 

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