Protections for Prosecco: EU’s bid to secure further wine geographical indications in Australia

26 June 2023

Recent developments in the renegotiation of the Australia-European Community Trade Agreement on Trade in Wine (Wine Agreement) may significantly impact Australian winemakers when it comes to the branding, names and marketing of their products.

Through these negotiations, the European Union (EU) is seeking to protect a list of EU geographical indications that relate to certain wines produced in Australia, such as Prosecco. If such protection is provided, Australian winemakers would no longer be allowed to use those terms to refer to, or identify their wine unless it originates from specific geographical regions and meets corresponding criteria of quality and characteristics.

What is a geographical indication?

A geographical indication (GI) is used to identify a product that originates from a specific geographical region and possesses qualities or a reputation that are attributable to that region.

A GI can only be used on products that have met the relevant GI standards. This provides assurance to consumers that the products they are purchasing have distinctive qualities (eg the product was made using particular methods of production or contains specific ingredients).

Examples of foreign GIs currently protected under the Wine Agreement include Champagne and Burgundy. Similarly, the EU has also agreed to protect Australian wine GIs such as Barossa Valley and Margaret River.

What are the terms the EU is seeking to protect?

The EU is requesting protection for a total of 50 new wine GIs, proposing updates to 103 existing wine GIs, and is seeking protection once again for the terms Prosecco and Vittoria. The EU has also requested the removal of six existing EU wine GIs from the Wine Agreement.

Out of the proposed terms put forward by the EU, 55 wine GIs were subject to the public objections process. These included:

  • All 50 new wine GIs;
  • Three (out of 103) significant updates to existing wine GIs:
    • Tierra de Leon/Leon;
    • Delle Venezie/Beneskih okolisev;
    • Coteaux du Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet/Picpoul de Pinet;
  • Vittora; and
  • Prosecco.

A full list of the wine GIs can be accessed here.

Proposed updates to the other 100 existing wine GIs were not included in the public objections process as they were not considered to be a significant change. These related to transliteration updates or other minor amendments, such as spelling changes.

The proposed changes have generated spirited public debate, particularly regarding the name Prosecco which has traditionally been used as a grape variety. If it is now protected as a GI, it will not only cause disruption within the Australian wine industry but there are concerns it will create a precedent leading to use of GIs to protect other grape varieties or well-known food names.

How will this affect my business?

These protections, if adopted, will likely limit the ability of Australian producers to use the above terms to market and advertise their wine unless an exception applies (such as essential use of a GI in an address, use of a GI in the winemaker’s name, or use of a common English word).

Wine Australia as the regulator would enforce this through the Wine Australia Act 2013 (Cth) which makes it an offence to sell, export or import a wine with a false or misleading description and presentation.

Public objections process

The Australian Government has now closed the public objections process (which was open between Friday 24 March and Friday 21 April). This process allowed Australian industry, stakeholders and the public an opportunity to have their say on the issue and oppose the protection.

The Australian Government is currently considering all submissions for each proposed term against the grounds for objection that were lodged through this process. This information will be used to help inform the negotiations on the protection of EU wine GIs under the Wine Agreement.

Once the Wine Agreement negotiations are finalised, the Australian public will be notified of the outcome. A summary of the submissions received during the public objections process will also be published at a later date.

How can we assist?

HWL Ebsworth’s Intellectual Property team is experienced in advising clients regarding geographical indications and associated product labelling laws. If you are concerned about how your IP rights may be affected by the proposed protections, please feel free to contact a member of our team.

This article was written by Peter Campbell, Partner and Lauren Clarke, Solicitor.

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