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Fair dinkum prosecco, but not in Singers

Prosecco grapes… re-named the “glera” grape variety in Italy.

“Perversely, the Italians now appear to have the right to register the name prosecco as coming exclusively from north-east Italy. That seems a bizarre application of the law, especially with the finding of the court that prosecco is the name of a grape variety,” writes wine writer RICHARD CALVER.

BATTLES over the name prosecco continue. This time the Australian industry has seemingly lost an important case in Singapore. 

Richard Calver.

In this country, Australian winemakers are permitted to call the wine made from the grape variety prosecco, a prosecco even though it has been re-named the “glera” grape variety in Italy. 

But the right of Australian winemakers to describe their wine as prosecco is under legal challenge and a recent case in Singapore has posed another problem for exporters of the sparkling wine.

Producers of prosecco from the Veneto region in north-east Italy have succeeded in protecting the geographic integrity of the prosecco name within the European Union. 

In Australia the protection would be reflected in the legal regime established here that distinguishes particular geographic regions as not being able to be used to describe Australian wines: geographic indication (GI) protection. 

So, while sparkling wine produced in Australia can’t be called champagne even when made from the method used in France, because it doesn’t come from that region in France, we can say that prosecco is Aussie because it comes from grapes formerly known as prosecco and is a varietal grown here, mostly in the King Valley, Victoria. 

The situation is not comparable with that of champagne, because prosecco didn’t indicate a geographical area until 2009, the same date as the name change to “glera” for the varietal occurred. 

So, with this controversy in the background, a recent court decision out of Singapore seems perverse. The Court of Appeal of that island state (its highest court) appears to have said that the term prosecco should be used in Singapore exclusively for wines produced in the specific Italian region. 

The judgment is the culmination of long-running legal battles about the registration of prosecco as a GI in Singapore. 

The court ruled that while the evidence demonstrated that “prosecco” was objectively the name of a grape variety, Australian Grape & Wine (the industry association fighting for the rights of Aussie producers to use the name) had failed to show that the proposed registered GI is likely to mislead Singapore consumers as to the true geographical origin of the wine. 

These findings relate to the fact that the provision of the Singapore legislation contains two tests: in short, if a proposed geographic indicator contains the name of a plant variety and is likely to mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product, the name cannot be registered. 

The court found that while the evidence before it revealed there was growing demand for Australian “prosecco” there was insufficient evidence to show whether Singapore consumers might be aware that “prosecco” is also the name of a grape variety used to make wine of the same name. 

So, perversely, the Italians now appear to have the right to register the name prosecco as coming exclusively from north-east Italy. That seems a bizarre application of the law, especially with the finding of the court that prosecco is the name of a grape variety. 

The court’s judgment arises from the second basis of GI protection in Singapore, that is for the benefit of consumers. This second approach to GI protection is connected to unfair competition. Here, the paramount consideration is whether a valuable reputation exists in the marketplace for a regional product. 

The existence of such a reputation can be established through evidence such as sales figures, advertisements or consumer surveys. Unfortunately, Australian Grape and Wine could not supply sufficient evidence to satisfy this test. Yet if, as the court found, prosecco is in fact objectively a grape variety rather than a GI, then surely that is in itself a reason to not let it be registered as a GI as it will lead to Singapore consumers being misled because prosecco is grown and sourced from Australia not just from Northern Italy? 

Australian Grape & Wine commented to me: “There remains uncertainty as to the implications of the judgment on Australian producers’ ability to utilise the term as grape variety in the Singapore market. We are continuing to seek clarity on the issue.”

The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum.Larry Niven

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Richard Calver

Richard Calver

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