By Andreea Micu (right), Partner and Ramona Bădescu (left), Associate–Stoica & Associates
The history of wine goes back thousands of years, when it was considered a sacred drink protected by gods such as the famous Dionysus – the Greek god of the grapes, harvest, wine-making and fertility – or the well-known Bacchus – the Roman god of wine, wineries and agriculture. Over the years, wine has been associated with art, philosophy, music and religion, due to its excellent cultural potential.
But how about wine and law?
The answer is nowadays simple: law defines the wine in our glasses. From the manner of selecting the plots for planting the grapes to the bottling of the drink itself and its distribution on the hypermarket shelves, wine is regulated by numerous provisions, for the purpose of protecting the consumers’ health as well as for ensuring the observance of a variety of quality standards.
In recent years, one of the most important and debated subjects in relation to wine law is the protection of designations of origin (PDOs) and geographical indications (PGIs).
European symbols for wine protected designations of origin and wine protected geographical indications.
According to the European and national law, there are four types of wine: wine with protected designation of origin (label: AOP or DOC or PDO etc.), wine with protected geographical indication (label: IG or PGI etc.), varietal wine (label: type of grape, e.g. merlot) and simple wine (label: wine). Since we live in a consumerist era, where each hypermarket offers an enormous diversity of wines from all over the world, it is natural to have difficulty when choosing the bottle of wine which suits best our interests and tastes. Indeed, the criteria for the basis upon which everyone can make their own selection of wines are complex, but one of them certainly stands out from the crowd: the existence of a protected geographical denomination.
PDOs and PGIs are not simply indicators of the geographical origin of the wine, but they are also instruments for measuring the quality of the wine itself.
How do we know that? Well, there are many legal provisions at international, European and national level that impose severe conditions for the production of wine with PDOs and PGIs and, in case such rules are broken, several sanctions are applicable.
According to the European and national legislation, the protected designation of origin is the name of a geographical region, local territory or even country, used for the description of certain types of wine, expressly mentioned by law, provided that the following conditions are met: the quality and the characteristics of the wine are entirely or mainly the result of specific geographic and human factors of the territory in question; the grapes originate entirely from the territory in question; the production takes place in the territory in question and the wine is obtained from Vitis vinifera grapes.
As well, according to the European and national legislation, the protected geographical indication is the name of a geographical region, local territory or even country, used for the description of certain types of wine, expressly mentioned by law, provided that the following conditions are met: the quality, the reputation or other characteristics of the wine may be attributed to the territory in question; at least 85% of the grapes originate from the territory in question; the production takes place in the territory in question and the wine is obtained from Vitis vinifera grapes or from Vitis vinifera grapes crossed with other Vitis grapes.
To summarize, in the case of both PDO and PGI wines, the connection with the territory of origin is essential. However, the standards of quality related to PDOs are higher, given that the grapes must originate exclusively from the territory in question and the fact that the wine’s quality must depend to a higher degree on the characteristics of the said territory.
Unlike varietal wines and simple wines, which can be made up of grapes from one territory, produced in another territory and bottled even in another territory, the PDO and the PGI wines make it possible for the consumer to follow the path of the wine – its traceability – and to understand the connection of the wine with its place of birth.
The connection of the wine with its place of origin is called, in a French manner, terroir, a word with no translation in other languages. The terroir is composed of geographical factors (such as landforms, rivers, sea), as well as climatic (average rainfall, snow, wind etc.) and human factors (such as traditions in the wine-making processes). In other words, the terroir determines the personality of the wine.
From the producers’ perspective, the PDOs and PGIs are industrial property rights, similar to trademarks, which make it possible for the wine producers developing their business in a certain geographical region to distinguish their wines from the ones produced in other territories. If necessary, it is possible to file a claim against another entity which produces and bottles wine that do not originate from the protected geographical region or that does not fulfill the strict quality conditions imposed in relation to the right to use the denomination of origin.
For instance, last year, the French authorities discovered the counterfeit of a massive quantity of wine under the PDOs Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The associations of wine producers from the two geographical regions filed a civil action against the counterfeiter for the illegal selling of 66.5 million bottles of wine under the PDOs Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The French authorities estimate that approximately 15% of the annual sales of these two types of wine in the period 2013 – 2016 were counterfeit. The litigation is still pending.
In order to be able to produce PDO or PGI wines, the producers must submit their wine to several controls made by the national authorities throughout the production process as well as to obtain certain specific authorizations.
In addition, according to both European and national law, the labelling of a PDO or a PGI wine must contain the designation “PDO” or “PGI” together with the name of the specific geographical region. In Romania, PDO can be encountered on the label as “DOP” – Denumire de origine protejată or “D.O.C.” – Denumire de origine controlată.
Wine laws and regulations have a strong influence on the wine that we pour into our glasses and they can provide valuable information when choosing the perfect wine for our taste. At the end of this article what is there left to say? Relax and enjoy your wine wisely! Cheers!