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EU switches wine reform focus

By Chris Mercer , 31-May-2007

Plans to rip out 400,000 hectares of vines to drain the EU's bulging 'wine lake' will be watered down to put greater emphasis on marketing wines abroad, Commission officials have confirmed.

Bowing to pressure from leading wine countries, EU wine reform proposals will call for only 200,000ha of vines to be 'grubbed up', a European Commission spokesperson told BeverageDaily.com. He confirmed the proposed marketing budget for EU wines would be at least €120m annually for five years, a significant increase on the current spend. The Commission will present its formal proposals on 4 July. Debate has raged for the last year over how best to reform Europe's wine sector, to help it compete more effectively against New World producers and drain the EU's 1.5bn-litre lake of surplus. Big producer countries, especially France, Italy and Spain, have repeatedly criticised plans to rip up vines as too negative. And new French president Nicolas Sarkozy raised the emotional bar recently by pledging to defend French farmers in Brussels. A Commission spokesperson said grubbing up plans would be scaled down because "the market situation is a little better and contacts with the sector convinced us we should put more money into promotion". Mariann Fischer Boel, Europe's agriculture commissioner, said last week she still believed "profound reform" in wine was necessary. Another of her controversial plans is to ban the use of sugar to enrich wines, known as chaptalisation in the industry. It is a method used more commonly by wineries in cooler parts of Europe in order to improve quality. The Commission believes enriching wine with sugar is an "artificial" way of making bad wines better, and does not conform to international winemaking standards. Some studies have shown concentrated grape 'must' may be a viable alternative to enrichment with sugar, but this practice is around three times more expensive. Jean Clavel, a veteran appellation winemaker in France, said banning enrichment could be "justified by helping to re-establish a market balance, [and so] enabling the sector to avoid a large part of the grubbing-up scheme".

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