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EC opens door for European super-blends

Published:  23 July, 2008

The European Commission's proposals for reforming the European wine regime would open the door for cross-country EU super-blends - with vintage and variety allowed on the label.

John Bensted-Smith, economic analyst at the EC DG for Agriculture, confirmed last week that as well as allowing blending within member states, the proposals as they currently stand (which carry no legal weight) would allow a producer to blend Cabernet Sauvignon from France and Italy, for example, and carry vintage date and the grape variety on the label'.

Bensted-Smith acknowledged that many of these proposals would be fiercely contested: There's no easy answers here, and we are well aware that many of these proposals are going to be controversial in certain member states, but this process is about getting the conversation going about EU wine reform.'

Some of the measures, such as the banning of the use of sugar in enriching musts prior to fermentation (chaptalisation), already looked doomed to be pushed to the wayside after howls of protest across the Channel, even though enrichment using concentrated musts would be allowed.

He added, however, that the EC was committed to pushing reform through: We've run seminars on this all over Europe and I have found a profound appetite for change. I think the wine industry has realised that profound change is needed if it is to prosper as a sector.'

The UK trade has, in general, reacted positively to the communication. Matthew Dickinson, sales director at leading importer Thierry's Wine Agencies said he had no real problem' with the proposals, including the allowing of cross-regional blending: We have already gone down this route with our brand Chamarr,' he said, which is produced from wine made across France, although under present laws we cannot put the vintage or variety on the label. These reforms would allow us to do that and I would be in favour of that, although the final say would of course be with the producer.'

Helen Munday, marketing director of HwCg, commented: Any policy that will reduce customer confusion and will aid sales of EU wines in the UK market, where the concept of varietal labelling is already established and is widely understood, is to be encouraged.'

Anne Burchett at Castel UK gave a cautious approach to reform: The worst-case scenario would be the abandonment of all reform simply because some of the changes may not be acceptable to a small, yet vocal minority. This is more or less what has happened to a succession of controversial proposed changes to the laws governing the production of wine in France.'