Ministers agree on diluted wine reform

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After three days of negotiations, agriculture ministers have passed, on 19 December, a reform package for the EU’s wine sector which waters down the major overhaul that Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel was planning. Following pressure form Italy and France, fewer vineyards will be scrapped and the surplus will contiune to be distilled into alcohol.

Ministers from the EU’s wine-growing nations managed to ensure that disputed practices such as ‘chaptalisation’ (using sugar or must to add sweetness and alcohol) will still be allowed. 

National financial envelopes: Different budgets, adapted to the reform needs of each member state, have been negotiated. All measures within the wine reform must be paid for out of those budgets. Those measures include restructuring and converting vineyards, modernising the production chain, innovation, promotion in third countries, new crisis management measures and support for green harvests.

Grubbing-up of vines: Instead of the Commission’s plans to reduce the wine-growing area in the EU by 400,000 hectares, the scheme agreed by ministers includes funding for just 175,000 hectares to be grubbed up. The scheme will be applicable for a three-year period, with decreasing levels of premium, and member states can halt it if more than 8% of a region’s wine-growing area would be affected. 

Labelling: An overall harmonisation of labelling practices throughout the EU as planned by the Commission will not take place. Protected Geographical Indications and Protected Designations of Origin remain at the heart of EU labelling practices, but winemakers not using those will in the future be allowed to indicate their wines’ grape variety and vintage on the label. 

Chaptalisation: Levels of alcohol enrichment obtained through the addition of sugar or must will be slightly reduced, but the practice will still be allowed in those member states and regions where it is legal now. Germany, Austria and Hungary were against Fischer Boel’s plan to outlaw the practice across the EU. 

Distillation: The surplus of wine – often of lower quality – that winemakers cannot sell on the market but can still be distilled into alcohol for industrial use will be phased out over a four-year period. The distillation of pomace can be imposed by member states but will not be oligatoury on an EU-wide basis as proposed by the Commission. 

Commissioner Fischer Boel commented on the outcome of the negotiations positively: “Instead of spending much of our budget getting rid of unwanted surpluses, we can now concentrate on taking on our competitors and winning back market share. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we have ended up with a well-balanced agreement.”

 

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