French Calvados producers are upset by a ‘vague’ European Commission response to their demand that Finnish retailers stop selling 'imitation' spirits they claim have hit exports.
But the head winemaker of Finnish concern Vinni Verla, which makes one of the brands under fire, ‘Verlados’, tells BeverageDaily.com that despite pulling the name for now, his company is “still fighting” in the EU’s highest court to keep it.
Calvados is protected by PDO status under Annex III of Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 and can only be produced in Normandy, France, and producers claims that exports are falling due to the imitation products.
French MEP Jean-Paul Gauzès tabled a question to the Commission on September 23 noting that Calvados producers are “faced with a situation in which Finnish producers are marketing imitation products with misleading names such as ‘Alvados’ or ‘Verlados’”.
Apple-based spirits ‘Alvados’ was being sold in Finnish state-run shops, he added, while Calvados exports to the Baltic States and Scandinavia were falling.
Scandinavia and Baltic Calvados sales stall...
The Interprofession des Appellations Cidricoles (IDAC) which represents 400+ Calvados producers, blamed such Finnish apple brandies for an abrupt halt to growth in exports of the Norman spirit to "important markets" in Scandinavia and the Baltic.
Anne Basley, from IDAC, told this website: "The Finnish market grew 24% between 2000 and 2005, and regrettably fell 25% between 2005 and 2012, the damage is therefore clear."
Basley said her organization was not aware of a court action from Vinni Verla, and added that if the company did not stop using the name Verlados then IDAC would demand that the Commission reopen the case it initiated last year (see below).
‘Serious impact on local producers’
Following a complaint from Calvados producers, the Commission began investigating Finnish producers in December 2012, and Gauzès asked for an update on progress.
He also asked what measures the Commission had taken and planned to take vis-à-vis the Finnish authorities to address a problem that was having a “serious impact on local producers and jobs”?
If the Finnish authorities failed to take action, Gauzès added, would the Commission start infringement proceedings against the country?
Answering Gauzès’ questions on October 31, Dacian Ciolos, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development said that the Finnish authorities had confirmed that they had taken steps to halt the marketing of the drinks under the contentious names.
“According to the Finnish authorities, the procedures may lead to withdrawal from the market – as per article 49 of the Alcohol Act – in the case of a refusal to modify the names in question,” he wrote.
spiritsEurope slams ‘vague’ Commission answer
In light of this Finnish action, Ciolos said that – barring further complaints – the opening of an infraction procedure against the Finns was not justified, although the Commission would monitor the implementation of the promised measures.
But spiritsEurope said the French producers of Calvados could not be satisfied with such a vague answer and urged the Commission to defend producers’ rights more effectively.
spiritsEurope asked the following questions: Would all imitation products be removed? Would the decision apply to all products sold in shops and online? When will such a removal take place?
“As we write, more than a year after the complaint was filed to the Commission – consumers can still buy ‘Verlados’ online,” spiritsEurope added.
‘We are still fighting’ – Verlados producer
Vinni Verla, head winemaker, Juha Kuronen said his firm first received complaints from Calvados producers about the Verlados name in 2006, and confirmed that the Commission (via the Finnish government) had requested his company stop using it.
“We have a case going on before the EU’s highest court and we have not surrendered yet. The EU Commission requested that we stop using the name before February 1 but we are still fighting.”
Nonetheless, Kuronen said that Vinni Verla had temporarily stopped using the Verlados name to continue sales, but said the step was “hopefully temporary”.
Basley hit back at Kuronen's claim that the Verlados name was not sufficiently similar to infringe that of Calvados, and she cited EU Regulation 110/2008, where Article 16 protects geographic indications.
"Commercialization under the name 'Verlados' is not fortuitous, it easily leads to confusion with the Calvados appellation and makes it possible to lead the consumer into error," she said.
She said that Calvados producers simply wished that the producers of Alvados and Verlados change the name of their products, withdraw the existing brands from distribution - including bottles sold via online channels - and that the Finnish government ensures that this is done.
Stressing the history of Verlados (distilled since 1999) and its high quality (as an organic apple brandy aged in Portuguese oak barrels from four or 10 years) Kuronen said that sales of the apple brandy were highest in Finland and the UK.
31 different types of apple were fermented to make the base wine that is then distilled.