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Control feats

Published:  23 July, 2008

A conference organised by the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO), held in Bordeaux at Vinexpo on 22 June as part of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the first French AOC, at once highlighted the desirability of a global system and the difficulty of reaching it. INAO president Ren Renou emphasised, We don't want a French system, we want a global system, and the more we all respect each other, the more positive the result will be'; while Alexander Tilgenkamp, deputy director-general of the Directorate-General for Agriculture at the European Commission, explained the administrative burden on EC institutions and the impasse in WTO negotiations on TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights).

In accordance with Renou's insistence that appellations of origin are not exclusively French, nor only of historic interest', and consistent with his opinion that France needs to look beyond its own borders for solutions, INAO had invited Fernando Bianchi de Aguiar to describe the Douro, one of the oldest appellations (1757), and Jorge Tonietto to introduce Brazil's Vale dos Vinhedos, one of the newest (2001).

David Campbell, CEO of Clos du Val, representing the Napa Valley Vintners Association (NVVA), clarified the differences between appellations of origin in the US (American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs) and those in Europe. In the former, the hierarchy (top to bottom) is brand, variety, terroir, whereas in the latter it is still the other way round, he said. A second important difference is that although AVAs are defined geographically, they are much less regulated in production terms than are AOCs, and Campbell saw little prospect of this changing.

He did, however, predict that the creation of appellations and recognition of terroir would rise in the US, and won applause from the largely French audience when he invited them to sign a petition at the NVVA stand urging the US government to show greater respect for appellations of origin worldwide. INAO general director Philippe Maugin expressed the hope that the US government might be more inclined to change its stance now that the Napa name was being hijacked not only by other American, but also by Chinese, companies.

While Campbell accepted that there would always be conflict' between the appellation and the brand in the US, Yves Bnard, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne, representing the ngociant houses in the world's best-known appellation of origin, stressed that there was no such antagonism there. He also emphasised the need to protect intellectual property rights, and referred to the steps the Comit Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne has been taking to prevent Champagne being used as a generic term.

In the broadest-ranging presentation of the day - which may have reflected the way in which the new EU Common Market Organisation for Wine, to be published in 2006, is shaping up - Tilgenkamp stressed how difficult it was to make progress on TRIPS on a global scale. He explained that there is a confused situation' even within the EU, which, although it accepted the latest TRIPS agreement on an EU level, implements it at the level of the member states. As a result, there are already more than 50 pages of regulations, governing some 10,000 names (4,000 of them German). The situation will become more complicated still, Tilgenkamp warned, with the admission of new member states and the registration of other agricultural products apart from wine, to the extent that he questioned whether the EU would have the administrative capacity to manage it'.

One solution, he said, might be to afford different levels of protection to different products, prioritising those about which consumers might be most easily confused, or those which were most widely distributed. He also suggested that this would facilitate bilateral agreements, especially when unilateral ones were proving so elusive. Bilateral agreements have already been reached between the EU and Australia and Chile, but not with other important producers such as the US.

Although Brussels was often blamed for the crisis' in European wine regions, Tilgenkamp urged the EU to resist the temptation to abandon appellations in favour of brands. Although the appellation system needs serious thought', he said, it is the foundation of the production of quality' and should remain the EU producers' warhorse'. The challenge is not to replace the appellation system, he said, but how to reform it in a way that makes it more meaningful.