old world wines, new world wines, European wines decline in popularity
Eric Risberg/AP

Old-World Wine Producers Battle New-World Marketing

December 02, 2008 01:57 PM
by Isabel Cowles
The European Union reached an agreement with Australia to protect wine labeling terms for the Old World as European vineyards compete with New World production.

All About the Wine Label

The agreement is intended to protect the regional names of Old World wines—those unique to long-established European vineyards. 

The accord was signed in Brussels and specifies that Australian winemakers will begin phasing out terms that traditionally define Old World Wines, such as Champagne, Sherry, Port and Burgundy, Bloomberg reports.

Bloomberg quoted the E.U. Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel as saying of the decision, “Crucially, we have obtained protection for our geographical indications and traditional expressions, which was of the utmost importance for European producers.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith noted that the decision means, “simpler recognition of winemaking techniques and simpler labeling requirements” for Australian winemakers.

Despite preserving certain nomenclature, Old World winemakers have made wines with untraditional flavors and techniques in order to compete with their modern rivals. For example, in an effort to win back some of the lost market share that France has suffered at the hands of Californian and Australian winemakers, President Nicolas Sarkozy passed a law in May that would allow “growers to make and market their product in the fruity fashion of the New World,” The Times reported.

The labeling would allow winemakers to identify wine by variety—such as merlot or chardonnay—as well as indicate its vintage. This process, characteristic of New World wine labeling, has prompted some French to criticize the “simple, standardised fruit-forward wines with brand names” that have enticed so many New World wine enthusiasts.

But the French, like other European wine producers, have watched sales drop as more palatable labels have attracted drinkers to New World vintages. Adopting a more straightforward labeling practice is “a way of giving new consumers a taste for wine,” Jean Claude Ruet, chief sommelier at the Paris Ritz hotel, told The Times.

Background: Old World wine sees sinking sales

European Wine producers have been struggling with sagging sales for more than a decade. According to the Associated Press, it was the high price of the 1995 Bordeaux that inspired consumers to consider other wines. As AP reported in 2007, “Traditional European winemakers are in a rut, facing overcapacity, tough markets and wine drinkers with tastebuds tickled by new horizons.”

A 2001 survey illustrated that New World wines were quickly replacing those of European origin. Much of the shift had to do with marketing and an emphasis on individual, small-scale vineyards that characterize European wines, the Daily Telegraph explained. A spokesman for Berry Bros. & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine merchants, told the publication: "French properties are much smaller and more individual, while the New World goes in for bulk production. They are in a completely different ball game but they are introducing people to wine drinking."

Related: Improving Old World practices with new technology

Reference: Wine on the Web


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