EU reforms raise concern

13 July, 2007

European wine reform plans may boost efficiency but could compromise quality, suppliers and retailers have warned.

The European Commission proposals - which are aimed at making the industry more competitive globally - include ending crisis distillation and banning chaptalisation. Growers will be offered grants to grub up vines, and planting restrictions will end in 2014. Also, table wines will be allowed to show vintage and varietal, and funds will be set aside for marketing.

Winemaking techniques permitted in the New World - such as oak chipping and reverse osmosis - could also be permitted by the new regime.

Bill Rolfe, director of Pink Elephant supplier 10 International, welcomed the banning of crisis distillation grants for wine overproduction but said he was concerned about the relaxation of vinification laws to permit methods like oak chipping. "That's OK up to a point, but if that leads to an overall poorer use of oak then I think there could be some concern there," Rolfe said.

"European producers and European industry associations should think carefully about how New World countries have achieved success - it's been through branding and marketing. Perhaps some help could be given with this," Rolfe said.

David Potez, owner of Battersea wine merchant The Grape Shop, said the proposals "may improve wine sales but may do nothing for the quality of the wine. I'm concerned it's the usual dumbing down".

Potez said he would not want European wines to lose their point of difference against the New World. "I don't like to see the word Chardonnay on a bottle of white Burgundy," he said.

UK Vineyards Association general secretary Sian Liwiski said the planting restriction extension had put a "dampener" on the UK wine industry and the ban on chaptalisation would create a problem for English wine producers.

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