Portugal’s ‘vinho verde’ producers seek EU protection for demarcated regions

Northern Portugal is home to the unique 'vinho verde'. [Jonathan Pincas/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report The added value of EU quality schemes.

The ‘vinhos verdes’ (green wines) of northwestern Portugal have no direct international competitors, but their producers nevertheless want the European Union to safeguard the regional demarcations in its trade accords with foreign markets, local officials said. EURACTIV’s partner Lusa reports.

“Defending European-origin denominations concerns us, that is, guaranteeing that the names of European demarcated regions are defended in destination countries,” said Manuel Pinheiro of the Vinho Verde Wine Region Wine Commission.

In comments to Lusa, Pinheiro welcomed the EU’s work so far with national and sector authorities in defending producers’ interests.

“The European Union has done a job of defending denominations of origin that appear as annexes in these [trade] agreements. The states that [sign them] with the European Union have to guarantee that they will defend those denominations of origin, so that they are not the target of fraud,” he explained.

The regional commission stressed that the sector currently exports about half of its total output and that such guarantees are therefore key to sustaining the growth seen in various non-EU markets such as the US and Canada, as well as in South America and Asia.

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Growing export markets

Pinheiro highlighted the trade agreement with Canada, which he said was very important, because of the size and potential of the market for Portuguese exports.

The US is also an important foreign market for vinho verde – indeed the largest along with Germany – representing as it did last year record sales of €48m, and with the prospect of gains in the coming years.

Although sales to these and other markets such as Japan and Russia continue to grow, Pinheiro noted that the sector is still finding it difficult to increase the retail price per litre, which is currently stuck at €2.20.

“That’s the great challenge,” he said. “The challenge of market quantities and numbers we’re winning, but the new frontier is selling at greater value.”

It is, Pinheiro said, “necessary to plant new vines to make better grapes [and] better wine and then take it to market so that the client can value it more”.

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Total production of vinho verde last year fell 20%, to 52 million litres, due to higher than normal rainfall. But the quality of the year’s output was “exceptional”, according to the commission.

Improving the product’s image

The Felgueiras agricultural cooperative, one of the region’s largest vinho verde producers with more than 1,000 wine makers and an annual production of 5 million litres, including 1.2 million for export, stresses the impact of upgrading vines. Every year since 2000, its director Rui Madeira said, 100 hectares of new vines have been planted, of varieties that produce higher quality grapes that make wine that sells better and at higher prices.

In comments to Lusa, Madeira stressed that exports in recent years have tended to be of more expensive wines, such as sparkling vinho verdes that are very much appreciated in Russia and Brazil.

“We have to get rid of the idea that verde is a cheap wine,” he said. “Today verde has a better international image as a quality product, which allows us to sell more quality and value.”

The Quinta da Aveleda, in Penafiel, is the country’s largest exporter of vinho verde, with its Casal Garcia brand accounting for two thirds of its sales. Martim Guedes, from the marketing department, stressed to Lusa that this year the company will plant 50 hectares of new vines to meet growing demand and also step up quality controls.

For this year the company projects turnover of €35m, up €2m from 2016. The increase in selling prices that the brands have achieved will also feed through into profits – in line, he noted, with the average price of a litre of vinho verde, which has been rising for about a decade and which last year for the first time matched that of mature table wines.

Aveleda sells as much to the US and Germany together as to Portugal, Guedes noted. Although the domestic market has recovered this year after several years of decline.

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