In January this year, bar chain Vagabond Wines temporarily installed an ATM outside an old bank branch in Central London. Yet unlike conventional cash distributors, Vagabond’s version dispensed Prosecco.
Coined an ‘Automated Prosecco Machine’, or APM, the gimmick was temporarily installed to mark the opening of a new Vagabond bar on the premises.
However, the marketing activation has disgruntled Prosecco producers in Italy, who say the APM is in breach of protected designation of origin (PDO) legislation, and therefore, EU law.
‘Improper use of the Prosecco name’
The Prosecco PDO is reserved for Prosecco, semi-sparkling Prosecco, and prosecco Supmante. The production area is within the Fruiuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto regions of north-eastern Italy.
According to the PDO register, Prosecco must be marketed in traditional glass bottles, which are subject to strict labelling requirements.
In a letter written to the European Commission on 12 February, Italian MEP Mara Bizzotto condemned Vagabond Wines’ use of the name Prosecco in its marketing activation, as the ‘Prosecco’ was not served by the bottle.
“The improper use of the Prosecco name to sell wine on tap is tantamount to fraud against consumers and is causing huge reputational damage to producers; this practice is in breach of EU legislation on the protection of PDO agri-food products,” she wrote.
The Consortium for the Protection of DOC Prosecco (Consorzio di Tutela del Prosecco DOC) has also raised concerns regarding Vagabond machine, ‘immediately’ taking action to halt the initiative, noted Bizzotto.
“Will the Commission make representations to the British authorities, as a matter of urgency, to seek a ban on installing fake Prosecco vending machines, in order to protect consumers from this form of counterfeiting?” the MEP asked the Commission.
“How does the Commission intend to help protect the businesses, and improve the image, of producers of this high-quality Italian-made product, which is falling victim to an increasing number of scams in Europe and worldwide?”
The European Commission responds
On 3 April, Mr Wojciechowski – on behalf of the Commission – issued his response: it is the responsibility of each Member State to “take the necessary steps to stop unlawful use of geographical indications on their territories”.
As the UK is still in its transition period, as per the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, it is “thus for the national authorities in the UK to act in case of alleged marketing practices that infringe the terms for the product specification for ‘Prosecco’,” noted Wojciechowski.
Vagabond Wines has temporarily closed its stores in light of the coronavirus pandemic and did not respond to a request for comment ahead of publication.
Not the first time
This incident is the not the first time MEP Bizzotto has sought interference from the Commission regarding potential violations of PDO legislation.
In her most recent letter, she wrote: “Here we have yet another scam by a British company to the detriment of Prosecco PDO in the United Kingdom, after the same of fake Prosecco on taps in pubs, and Prosecco-flavoured sweets, crisps, and tea bags in supermarkets.”
Indeed, in 2015, Bizzotto asked the Commission if it intended to prevent English bars tapping and serving Prosecco using pressured systems, “thereby preventing winemakers in the Veneto region from being ripped off”.
And the following year, the MEP accused the UK of ‘attempting to exploit the Prosecco PDO for its own financial gain’ – again. “Following the sale of fake draught Prosecco in London pubs and Prosecco-flavour sweets and crisps in British supermarkets, the latest novelty on sale in the British arm of the Aldi supermarket chain is a selection of spiced wine-flavour infusions, including one labelled ‘Italian Prosecco Infusion’,” she wrote.
“This is yet another attempt by a British company to cheat European consumers and producers from the Veneto, in clear violation of EC law on the protection of PDO agricultural and food products.”