New Zealand embroiled in Prosecco debate

Sunday, 3. February 2019 - 12:45

Photo by Moss on Unsplash

The great Prosecco debate – that is, the question of whether Prosecco is a grape variety or a Geographical Indication worthy of protection – has moved from Australia to New Zealand.

The European Union has entered into wine trade agreement re-negotiation talks with New Zealand, and has submitted a list of Geographical Indications (GIs) and wine terms it wishes to see protected in the New Zealand wine market, including Prosecco.

Australian wine producers, now embroiled in a war of words over Prosecco, are watching the talks with intense interest. Should New Zealand protect the term ’Prosecco’, then Australian-labelled Prosecco could no longer be sold in that country and the entire A$130m ($94.2m) Australian Prosecco market could be in jeopardy; New Zealand is Australia’s number one wine export market.

At this stage, the New Zealanders are standing firm: Prosecco is a grape variety.

“We, as the industry, are very clear that Prosecco is in fact a long-established grape variety and not a Geographical Indication,” says Jeffrey Clarke, General Manager Advocacy and General Counsel with New Zealand Winegrowers. “We are not going to tell them they can set a new precedent by allowing a grape variety to be protected outside the EU as a Geographical Indication just for commercially protective purposes. That’s not what Geographical Indications are about: they are about geography not grape varieties.”

His comments refer to the decision by the Italians in 2009 to change the name of the grape within the EU from Prosecco to Glera and then using the name ‘Prosecco’ to describe a region, and then seeking to protect that as GI under EU wine trade agreements around the world.

New Zealand not only imports Prosecco, principally from Australia, but it also has a long history of growing a small selection of emerging Italian grape varieties such as Montepulciano that the European Union also wishes to protect, and which feature on a long list of GI names submitted by the EU to the New Zealand government.

“We expected their first ask would be a longish list of claimed Geographical Indications but we didn’t expect it to be quite as long,” says Mr Clarke.  “It’s a couple of thousand [names].

“We did think they would prioritise, selecting the ones that they actually regard as important intellectual property to protect for their global wine trade, rather than listing every single name in the EU.”

Compound wine names that comprise a grape variety name and a Geographical Indication such Barbera d’Alba, Amarone della Valpolicella, Vermentino di Gallura, Fiano di Avellino and so on, will also need to be determined.

While the EU is busy re-negotiating wine trade agreements around the world with an emphasis on protecting Prosecco, Australian winemakers are working hard to shore up support in export markets.

The Brown Family Wine Group (formerly Brown Brothers), Australia’s largest producer of Prosecco, is vigorously pursuing New Zealand, China, the US and parts of Asia, saying: “We are working hard in those markets to make sure we have some sort of distribution, some use of the word Prosecco from Australia, so that we have actually got a basis for arguing that it is a grape variety that’s grown widely and is grown in Australia as well as Europe, just like Chardonnay and Cabernet.”
Jeni Port