Italian grape variety names are a continued point of contention between Australia and Italy. After changing the name of the grape variety Prosecco to Glera in 2009, Italy successfully pursued Geographical Indication (GI) protection for the term Prosecco in several international markets—Australia being a notable exception. An agreement was reached in 2013 allowing Australian producers to label their wines Prosecco for the domestic market but not for export. Now, as Australia renegotiates its Free Trade Agreement with the E.U., Italy is trying to ban Australian Nero d’Avola imports to the U.K.
Italy’s agency for quality protection and fraud control of agricultural products, or ICQRF, has requested that authorities in the U.K.—the biggest import market for Australian Nero d’Avola single-varietal and blended wines—block the sale of Australian Nero d’Avola after reviewing the websites of 20 online merchants in the U.K. The ICQRF identified a need to “protect consumers in the United Kingdom” and reduce confusion caused by “ … the continued use of the terms ‘Sicily’ and ‘Sicilian’ that are often used to describe and advertise Australian wines on the identified websites….” The complaint seeks to extend the argument of protection under GI to include Nero d’Avola because the Sicilian town of Avola is used in the name of the grape variety, although there is no delimited region actually named Nero d’Avola.
In August, Italy lodged a request to protect Avola as a GI within Australia. The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia submitted an objection, which Tony Battaglene, the chief executive of the WFA, explains was intended “to clarify the relationship between grape varieties and regions.” A formal agreement was reached and the result was a success, according to Battaglene, in that Australia will “protect and stop any use of the term Avola, but Nero d’Avola is still available and will continue to be used as a grape variety name in Australia.” How this will play out in the export market remains to be seen, and this is not expected to be the final chapter in the saga. Battaglene anticipates that “Italy will continue to try and gain a market advantage by preventing the use of [additional] grape variety names.”
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In terms of exports, Nero d’Avola accounted for a fraction of bottled wine exported from Australia to the U.K. in 2017, according to Wine Australia, a government authority based in Adelaide that promotes and regulates the industry. As a relatively recent arrival—in the early 2000s—to Australian shores, Nero d’Avola is one of a number of grape varieties being investigated for its resistance to increasingly hot and dry growing conditions in the country. The grape is performing well there, and plantings have been expanded, but in 2017 the variety accounted for less than 1 percent of the national crush, well behind the leading Italian grape variety, Pinot Grigio (4 percent), leaving many in the industry questioning the legitimacy of this latest complaint.
The response from the U.K. has been muted. The Italian wine expert Michael Palij, MW, the managing director of Winetraders, an import and distribution company based in Oxfordshire, England, says he is unaware of any changes being implemented in the U.K. market. David Gleave, MW, the managing director of Liberty Wines, an importer and distributor in London, agrees, stating that Liberty Wines has no plans to change the way Australian Nero d’Avola is marketed. “We believe it is positive for Sicilian wine that Nero d’Avola is being planted more widely,” he says, “as it shows an international interest in and demand for the grape.” In Australia, Kim Chalmers, the director of Chalmers Wines Australia, a producer based in Mildura, Victoria, reports no change from its U.K. importer and says in fact that discussions about future Nero d’Avola projects are in progress.
If the argument from Italian producers is ultimately successful, the implications will be significant for wine regions that are exploring grape varieties better suited to the world’s changing climate, as well as for New World countries increasing their share of the global market. Until then, Australia’s grape growers will continue to watch closely as trade negotiations with the E.U. continue.
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Simone Madden-Grey is a freelance writer from New Zealand who now lives in Melbourne, Australia. After completing the WSET Diploma, she was awarded the HKIWSC Scholarship for earning the highest mark in Asia, and in 2018 she was the Fellow at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. As the owner of Happy Wine Woman Consultancy, she provides writing, education, and cellar management services to industry and private clients across Australia.