TV attacks uncork Euro wine label debate

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Winemaking, European union

The wine industry has gone on the defensive over its labelling practices following the broadcast of a UK-made documentary claiming existing guidelines are misleading consumers on what is inside their bottles.

In last week’s episode of the Dispatches program, an investigative series sent out by British broadcaster Channel 4, some producers were accused of failing to list a host of additives such as waters and sugars and in certain products, even acid, to mask certain flavour qualities in the tipple.

However, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), also native to the UK, denied the show’s claims that a sub genre of ‘Frankenstein wines’ were making their way to market, and said that strict regulations were imposed across Europe on acceptable ingredients in wine.

As part of Common Agricultural Policy reforms designed to shake up the European wine trade to be more competitive against its ‘new world’ rivals, labelling for products as well as acceptable practices for enrichment have been key parts of the discussions.

The dispatches program alleges that aside from misleading labelling of ingredients, some retailers were also marking up prices of their wines and champagnes beyond their true worth.

Labelling defensive

WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles has hit back though, claiming that it was actually the Dispatches program and other similar media coverage that were misleading consumers over wine quality.

According to Beadles, vintners have always been reliant on using additives to maintain taste and quality in their products, though use of these ingredients remains strictly regulated across the bloc.

“Winemaking has always involved the use of certain additives to ensure consumers enjoy a consistent high quality product,” ​he stated. “If any producer is found to have breached these regulations we fully support action by the authorities.”

Information Challenges

In defending labelling practices within the bloc, Beadles claimed that tighter regulation for providing on-pack information would serve to be detrimental for the industry as a whole.

“The precise combination of ingredients used in the winemaking process varies because no two batches of grapes are the same,”​ he stated. “This variance and the need to translate materials into 27 languages to satisfy EU single market requirements mean precise labelling for wine covering full ingredients would be massively expensive.”

According to WSTA estimates, these costs could total €1bn over three years for producers, charges that either winemaker of consumers would have to bare.

Beadles said that such a move would hinder the bloc’s smaller producers as well as the selection of wines available to customers.

Related topics: Markets, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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