What do you think of the 19th edition of VinExpo?
Vinexpo is a fair with specificities which makes it unmissable. It may be less business oriented than other wine fairs, but its ambience on and off site gives it a recognised appeal for business. This edition will have enabled many visitors to discover the new tourist attractions of the city of Bordeaux and in particular the Cité du Vin which has recently been opened. The Cité du Vin is a great success. It is very encouraging for the entire wine world to see so many visitors passionate about everything that wine represents. On this occasion, the Presidents of EFOW also met to take stock of European issues.
What is the state of play of the simplification process of the EU wine sector legislation?
EFOW has been fighting for almost two years to maintain the specificity of the wine sector within the framework of the European regulation. At the end of 2015, the Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan, launched the process of simplifying our secondary legislation which translated into 6 new draft texts against the one that existed. A “simplification” which wasn’t one and which EFOW hastened to denounce. Moreover, there was a serious risk that it would be the end of the specificity of viticulture in European texts and its integration into the horizontal agricultural regulations. EFOW managed to mobilise the European Parliament and 17 Member States to oppose the Commission proposal. This prompted Commissioner Hogan to change his approach and to announce that all the wine regulations relating to GIs, traditional terms and labelling would be brought together in one Delegate Act and one Implementing Act.
EFOW also fiercely worked to maintain one key rule for the GI sector, the so-called ‘temporary labelling’ mechanism. Nowadays, when a specification is amended, the amendments can enter into force once the texts are published at the national level. However, these changes must then be approved by the European Commission (EC). Considering that this arrangement created legal uncertainty, the Commission proposed to simply abolish this measure. As a result, the entry into force of any amendments would be suspended awaiting the green light from the EC. This would have translated into a very long process which could have prevented the swift development of GI wines and block their competitiveness. The EC was sensitive to EFOW’s arguments and proposed a solution to enable a large majority of amendments to take effect rapidly. In fact, the Commission has taken a very important step in recent months by proposing that minor amendments to specifications should be the sole responsibility of Member States.
EFOW still have major claims that are not currently foreseen in the draft texts. In particular, we call for the introduction of short and strict deadlines for major changes requiring the Commission’s approval. The European Parliament has recently written to Commissioner Hogan on this matter and is supporting EFOW’s position. Operators need certainty to invest and meet consumers’ expectations.
How does EFOW position itself on the labelling of alcoholic beverages?
As you can easily imagine, this is a very complex issue. The complexity comes from the very nature and the specific structure of our sector. Wine, unlike other alcoholic beverages, is an agricultural product. Europe’s 2.5 million winegrowers/wine-makers produce each year unique products which are the result of a terroir, weather conditions and their knowledge. They do not follow a recipe as it is the case for an industrial product which is standardised. Our wines change over the years. In addition, our industry is one of the most regulated as there are rules on varieties, oenological practices, controls, presentation and marketing. This allows us to offer consumers a unique, high quality product that meets their expectations. Our difficulties arise from these specificities and that is why we are looking for solutions which will enable our SMEs and VSEs to communicate meaningful information to consumers: we have nothing to hide. Wine labels are meant to give consumers the necessary information but also to encourage a purchase. They must not be overloaded. The industry is considering a link between the label and a website-like medium so that consumer may access also other information.
EFOW is organising its 1st European Congress on 22 November. What are your goals?
For their very first Congress, EFOW’s members want to shed light on the European wine sector through a wine fitness health check. The wine sector, compared to other agricultural sectors, is rather efficient and an important part of its operators have invested on a qualitative policy. This good performance is based on many factors, including the positive image of wine, a wide variety of products, the vitality of the economic fabric and, of course, tailored-made European funds which have enabled it to restructure and position itself on the international scene. The sector also benefits from a specific regulation that allows its development : a tool to manage wine-growing potential, very strict definitions, precise labeling rules that allow operators to distinguish themselves and consumers to be properly informed. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the challenges that we are facing: the emergence of new players on the world stage, the protection of our GIs abroad and environmental concerns. The sector wishes to preserve the tools that have helped us built undeniable successes and to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.