EU’s Claim to Sparkling “Prosecco” Falls Flat in Australia

September 4th, 2019

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Australian wine producers and enthusiasts are balking at the European Union’s (EU) attempt to include “Prosecco” in its list of more than 1,500 product names it wants exclusive rights to under its $100 billion bilateral trade agreement with Australia. (That list also includes popular cheeses such as parmesan, feta, haloumi, brie, camembert, pecorino and edam.) But research by law professors at Australia’s Monash University finds that Prosecco has been the name of a grape variety since the 18th century – and probably much earlier, and that the EU’s protection of Prosecco as a GI would likely run up against World Trade Organization rules.

Until 2009, Prosecco was universally regarded as a grape variety as well as a type of wine. But 10 years ago, the EU granted the name Prosecco to Italy as a geographical indication (GI), so the Italians changed the name of the grape to “Glera”. At the same time, leading Italian and international wine authors and growers confirm that Prosecco is the name of a grape variety, and the EU expressly stated in a 1994 agreement with Australia that Prosecco is a grape variety. Prosecco wine has been produced in Australia since the early 2000s, after Prosecco grape vines were imported from Italy in 1997.

“If Prosecco is the name of a grape variety and not a geographical indication, the prohibition of its use in trademarks on Australian Prosecco would, in our view, be likely to contravene Article 20 of the TRIPS Agreement, and Article 2.1 of the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement,” said Caroline Henckels, one of the Monash University authors. “The Australian government should not jettison the commercial interests of Australian wine producers without a detailed consideration of the evidence that supports, or fails to support, the assertions of the EU. Trading dubious geographical indications for access to European markets is a shortsighted approach that will negatively affect Australian industry.”

If the EU is successful, it could cause significant damage to Australia’s wine industry. Australian Prosecco wine exports are worth $60 million annually and are predicted to rise to $500 million over the next decade. Australian publication FoodProcessing.com.au reports that according to industry trade organization Australian Grape & Wine (AGW), Prosecco domestic wine sales of Prosecco have increased by over 100% in the past two years.

“It’s great to see Prosecco being embraced by Australian producers and consumers,” AGW Chief Executive Tony Battaglene told FoodProcessing.com. “Australia has been producing great wine from Prosecco grapes for years, which is why we’ve been working so hard to maintain Australian producers’ rights to grow the variety.”

The European Commission tried to register Prosecco as a GI in Australia in 2013, but it failed after the AGW (then the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia) argued successfully that it was the name of a grape variety.

“We have been disappointed by the efforts of the EU to protect their producers against any competition through subsidies and cynical attempts to create GIs of grape varieties,” Battaglene said. “There’s no question about Australian producers’ rights to produce, label and sell Australian Prosecco. Maintaining these rights and ensuring the investments growers and winemakers have made in the variety are on solid ground all comes down to the outcome of our free trade agreement negotiations with the EU. We’ve already won the fight in Australia from a legal perspective back in 2013, and we are delighted the Australian government continues to honour this court ruling and back Australia’s grape growers and winemakers.”