Establishing geographic indications for wine

I’ve just written an article on ‘Developing Appellations’, which discusses some of the controversies and pitfalls surrounding the creation of geographic indications (GIs) in emerging wine regions.

Here are a few brief thoughts.

First, it’s quite useful to read this document on the topic from the World Intellectual Property Organization. It’s a broad look at the whole process, referring across a range of product types. The definition of a GI is as follows:

A geographical indication is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.

Second, I think caution is in order before new GIs are created. Commercial incentives and local pride encourage the creation of GIs and this can over-ride the science and logic. The result? A profusion of meaningless GIs that confuse the public.

Also, controlling and mean-spirited people can punish people they don’t like by denying them the GI – this is especially the case when some sort of tasting panel is used. GIs can add more rules and form filling without any real benefit being derived.

Wine is already complicated enough. New GIs should only be created when it’s plainly obvious that they need to be because the differences in physical vineyard conditions create wines that are noticeably different. Even then, people should proceed with caution. And I also think that GIs should be linked to variety (or varieties) for them to make sense.

If you get a chance to read the longer article, let me know your thoughts.

3 comments to Establishing geographic indications for wine

  • You raised some good points here (new appellations)I forwarded this to
    the newly established b c wine task force as there are a lot of
    opinions out there.

  • Jamie – Very good piece, well thought-out and reasoned as always.

    I can think of some DO quirks in Spain. The most famous, Rioja, is huge and split between 3 provinces. As a consumer you probably have a fairish idea what you will get if it says “Rioja” on the label and it costs about 7-18 euros. But with an increasing move towards bypassing the tiered-ageing system and just labelling everything with the green “joven” back label, how much sense does it really make to have 3€ carbonic maceration 2014 red sharing an identity with some 100€ icon? Or what about Tenerife? I know it’s an incredibly diverse island and now home to some fascinating wines – but 5 DOs? Where’s the consumer demand for this? Or is it a case of build it and they will come? Lastly, I was once part of the taste-panel for Costers del Segre and in my opinion some complete crap got through. Why have a tasting commitee if it has no teeth?

    I totally agree that new regions ought to wait a while before encasing things in rules. In Canada the Okanagan region has 7 sub-appellations defined but not applicable (yet) – and there are some lovely wines, but the industry’s still a baby. At the moment many of the region’s best wineries, e.g. La Frenz choose not to be part of the system. Yet the winery can (rightly in my view) put “Naramata Bench” on their labels, as that’s where they are. The whole thing in BC seems also to be tied into where you can and can’t sell your wines and promote them – I don’t know, doesn’t really seem to work at the moment. And as the rules evolve, they should definitely get rid of the appalling “Cellared in Canada” loophole while they’re at it.

    As for rules controlling yields and so on – I don’t think there’s any appetite for that in the new world, with the idea being that the brand guarantees a certain quality.

  • Randy Caparoso

    Read your “Developing Appellations” piece, Jamie. I like the term “indications.” Sort of suggests origin or terroir related sensory indicators that can, or should, find their way in a bottle, should a system of appellations be worth the time and trouble.

    I am curious, though, about your implications that the American AVA system tend to be primarily political. Of course, politics plays a part in everything; and I’m not disputing the fact that larger AVAs — such as Columbia Valley, Napa Valley, Mendocino or Paso Robles — are so broadly defined that they possibly mislead or confuse consumers. But that’s why the American system allows for the evolution of sub-AVAs as well as overlapping AVAs.

    In any case, the American system — however imperfect it may be — is at least based upon evidence of real, natural geographic distinctions, as well as historic and currently available precedents supporting reasons why a proposed AVA is self-evident as such. Confusion is inevitable, especially in the early stages of an AVA’s existence. It’s not just consumers, but also trade and media. I’m always amazing by the moans and groans coming out of the latter two groups when new AVAs are announced. How lazy can you be?

    In time, familiarity leads to increased appreciation; and eventually, positive, beneficial impact on wine quality and distinctions — the operative term being “time.” We see that over and over again. But lord knows, regional groups who go through the expensive, meticulous, time consuming process of proposing and submitting AVAs are put through a wringer. You can’t blame consumers for not understanding “new” appellations; but we should expect better from media and trade.

    Look at it this way: AVAs can be confusing, but it’s infinitely better than what we had before; which was zero AVAs and strictly political boundaries. At least our AVA system is based upon geographic, historic and contemporary evidence. I’d much rather be “confused” by AVAs like Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley than broader, even more meaningless label verbiage such as “Washington State,” or sub-regions by county rather than by geographic distinctions.

    As it were, actual growers and producers are usually aware of geographic distinctions that impact the character and quality of wines far earlier than consumers, trade and media. I should hope so — it’s their business to know distinguishing features of vineyards and regions that impact their decisions, even if those decisions are made primarily to produce products dictated by commercial rather than terroir related concerns.

    The best of all possible worlds? When wine is appreciated more by place of origin — or “GI,” as you are suggesting, Jamie — rather than arbitrary notions such as “varietal character” (which tends to supersede origin or terroir in our simplistic way of looking at wine) or 100-point scores (even more meaningless, since they are based on quality assessments irregardless of regional and vineyard distinctions).

    After all, as we know, all the best wines in the world are direct reflections of where they are grown. Human input is important, but Mother Nature is the primary dictator or “indicator.” That’s when wine is most interesting. When we can appreciate, say, a ToKalon, DAOU or Montrose as much as a Lafite or Margaux; the same way we can appreciate every child as someone unique andn precious, or every work of art or music for what it is, not what people say it is.

    To do this, of course, we *need* appellation systems, and we need to be willing to take the time to carve out appellations with intelligence regardless of political or self-serving concerns.

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