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Italians froth over Australian prosecco

Local product naming and access for Australian agriculture products ended free trade negotiations with the EU.

Local product naming and access for Australian agriculture products ended free trade negotiations with the EU. Photo: Getty/TND

Australian wine producers were dealt a major blow a few years ago when they lost the right to call their bottles of bubbly ‘champagne’.

Now, they could lose the right to the word ‘prosecco’, if a challenge by Italians goes to plan.

Italy, via the European Union, is pushing for the name prosecco to become a protected name in Australia.

They want the term ‘prosecco’ to be used only when referring to bubbles produced in Italy, as part of trade negotiations with Australia.

They claim the word ‘prosecco’ indicates a Geographical Indication (GI), meaning it comes from a defined region in Italy.

Australian wine producers are fuming at the proposal; they say Italy is  trying to limit the ability of Australia’s prosecco market to compete.

Grape or geography?

The champagne challenge by the French back in 2010 was more clear-cut.

Champagne is the name of the French province from which bubbly must be produced in order to earn its name.

However, in the case of prosecco, things are more complex.

Prosecco is named after the village of the same name, located in the province of Trieste in Italy’s north-east.

Prosecco was also the name of the grape used to make the beverage, making it a distinct varietal, similar to the naming process of shiraz, merlot and grenache grapes.

But the Italian consortia of prosecco flipped the definition on its head in 2009 when it declared that prosecco was not a grape variety, but actually a Geographical Indication.

Under this definition, they claim that the word is used to describe prosecco produced in nine specific provinces in Italy in the Veneto and Friuli Venezie Giulia regions.

To make matters more confusing, they argue the name of the grape is now ‘glera’, despite the consortia acknowledging prosecco as a grape variety for decades.

Australia isn’t the only country to fall victim to Italy’s change of heart.

The EU has deals in place with Canada, South Africa, Chile and Vietnam to prevent prosecco being used as a grape name.

The EU has a more complex agreement in place with the US.

Italy’s Veneto region is one of the largest producers of prosecco. Photo: Getty

‘Significant issue’

Italy’s bid to claim exclusive rights Down Under has outraged Australia’s winemaking community, with the nation’s prosecco industry worth $200 million.

Australian Grape and Wine strategy and international affairs director Damien Griffante told 2GB on Tuesday that their efforts pose a “really significant risk” for the Australian wine community.

“Obviously they understand the value of prosecco and they’re trying to limit the Australian industry’s ability to compete by locking up the term as a GI.”

While wine producers like Brown Brothers, Jacobs Creek and de Bortoli would be forced to change their branding, regional producers will be the hardest hit.

“It’s not just the industry itself – it’s a lot broader than that. It’s also the supply chain. There’s a lot of investment in regional Victoria,” Mr Griffante said.

“Those regional communities that are, you know, doing it tough and will suffer the most from all of this if we lost the name.”

And should the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade grant exclusive use of the term to Italy, this could open up issues for other wine varieties.

“There’s also potential for this to create a point where other grape varieties could be at risk as well, as a result of this.”

Prosek v Prosecco

This isn’t the first time Italy has picked a fight over the prosecco name.

Back in 2013, the name of Croatian premium dessert wine Prosek was banned across the EU.

Instead, the beverage must trade under the name Vino Dalmato.

However, the nation applied for Prosek to also be granted special status under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin in 2021.

While a decision is yet to be made, Italians have said it is “shameful” for Brussels to consider giving the same special status to prosek as  prosecco was granted back in 2009.

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