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Wine Law

Weingesetz Even in ancient times, attempts were made to improve the quality of wine through appropriate laws and regulations and to prevent abuse. There is a lot of written evidence of this (see under Literature). The oldest wine law comes from the Babylonian ruler Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.), whose empire then encompassed almost the entire Mesopotamia. The law of the Roman Republic also regulated the sale (especially the wholesale trade) of wine and defined in the individual laws what quality guarantee the buyer could expect and how the wine could be marketed. In the individual countries, quality criteria and classes were already introduced in the early Middle Ages. Emperor Charles the Great (742-814) enacted corresponding laws.

In the 17th century in Burgenland (Austria) there were the following four stages: Vinum Nobile (noble wine, Ausbruchwein from dried grapes), Vinum Bonum (quality wine from the Furmint, Augster and Muskateller varieties), Vinum Mediocre (wine of medium quality) and Vinum Cibale (table wine or table wine). At Vienna of the 18th century, there were the quality levels of Herrschaftswein (only for court table), Offizierswein and Soldatenwein. At that time, starting in Spain(Rioja), Portugal(port wine) and Italy(Chianti), a distinction was made between two quality classes, namely wines of better quality with and of lesser quality without a clearly defined geographical origin. This led to the concept of Romanic wine law.

Wine laws in Europe

From the end of the 19th century onwards, strict laws were introduced in all wine-growing countries in order to ensure or improve quality and to protect against wine adulteration. At that time, however, there were still great differences. Finally, as a complement to this, the appellation system established itself in France from the 1930s onwards as a model for most European countries. On the basis of these provisions, an extensive body of laws and regulations was created within the European Union. The laws of the member states are based on this, although there are country-specific differences in detail.

The standard work in Germany is the "Weinrecht" (Walhalla-Verlag, Wilhelm Schevardo and Josef Koy), which in the edition published in December 2019 comprises 4,570 pages plus CD-ROM. It offers the wine law of the EU, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federal States. A further work is the online platform "Weinrecht" (Wine Law) published by the German Wine Institute(DWI) (digital successor to the "Weinrecht Kommentar" by Prof. Dr. Hans-Jörg Koch). The standard work in Austria is the "Wine Law" (Manz-Verlag, Hannes Mraz and Hans Valentin), which comprises 816 pages in the 5th edition published in 2018. It offers a comprehensive presentation of the entire wine law including all regulations and EU provisions. Furthermore, there is also the electronic database RIS (legal information system), which contains, among other things, wine law issues.

Depending on climatic conditions, Europe is divided into three main zones A, B and (with subzones) C. For certain wine-making practices, there are different specifications or exceptions per wine-growing zone. Certain oenological practices or treatments can be authorised by any EU member state for experimental purposes. The restriction for such wines is that the entire "experiment" within a Member State may not exceed three years (a one-off extension to a further three years is permitted). However, wine treated in this way may not be sold to other EU Member States.

In addition to the EU requirements, there are also far-reaching or often even stricter country-specific regulations in the individual countries, most of which also vary by region, growing area, individual sites or even specific wines. In addition to the above-mentioned, these regulations also regulate such issues as certain forms of education, regulations regarding winemaking, special bottle shapes (such as the Bocksbeutel), minimum ageing times for wines (barrel and/or bottle), wine designations and the earliest time of marketing. The verification of these rules by official bodies is also defined. The exact regulations are listed under the respective countries.

Wine laws in the New World

In the New World, on the other hand, wine legislation is usually much less strict. In most countries, the normative power of the factual applies. One orients oneself very strongly to the consumer wishes, which also leads to a certain uniformity of the wine styles. In this context, especially in the USA, the term Coca-Cola wines was created. Mostly there is only the distinction between wine, dessert wine and sparkling wine with minimum alcohol limits. Rather unusual are yield restrictions and grape variety specifications. Enriching with sugar is often forbidden, for example in Australia, Chile and South Africa, and acidification is obligatory due to climatic conditions, especially in many southern countries.

The wine trade agreement between the EU and the USA concluded in 2005 and the EU wine market organisation adopted in 2006 brought about extensive changes.

EU and USA wine trade agreement

In December 2005, the EU agriculture ministers took a momentous decision that led to fierce reactions and questions in the wine scene. They signed a wine trade agreement with the USA, which had been under discussion since 1983. It came into effect at the beginning of 2006 and regulates the mutual recognition of production standards in wine making. Now, all processes that were approved in the USA or in the EU on or before 14.9.2005 are mutually approved. However, this only applies to the marketing of products in the other area; what is permitted in the USA may very well be prohibited in the EU. This ended a longstanding dispute between American and European winemakers.

The USA is now allowed to import wines into the EU that have been treated with certain "modern technologies". Critics believe that this will flood the market with the aforementioned Coca-Cola wines. In return, the USA recognises protected European designations of origin. The previously misused designations, such as Bordeaux, Champagne, Chianti or Tokaj, are no longer used on labels. In assessing the agreement, which was immediately controversial and criticised after it was signed, it should be noted that the USA is the largest export market for European wine. EU wine exports to the United States are about five times the volume of US wine exports to EU countries. If no agreement had been reached, restrictive measures by the US would probably have led to serious losses for the EU in the wine trade.

The new processes include cellar techniques that have long been used on a large scale, especially in the USA, but some of them are already in use in Europe. These are, for example, devices that extract water from the wine by means of filtration, freezing or steam processes, thereby causing a concentration of the ingredients. A process that has been used for a long time in the oil industry, but is new to wine making, is Spinning Cone Column (SCC). Simply put, the wine is broken down into certain components and these are then reassembled in such a way that a different taste in terms of alcohol content and aromas is created.

A second particularly criticized application is the addition of water to dilute a must grown under hot sun and too concentrated. The third group concerns the addition of tannin or wood aromas in various forms. This does not refer to barrique ageing, which is used worldwide, but to less complex and less expensive processes such as the use of wood chips (pieces of oak wood) or the addition of aromatic oak wood extracts. Wood chips have now been permitted by EU regulation since the beginning of 2007. Oenological tannins and oenological enzymes are also partially permitted in the EU. Under the keyword "agents used in winemaking" all relevant substances are listed.

The main point of criticism within the EU (especially and Austria) is that the agreement does not provide for a labelling obligation for the production process. The consumer therefore does not know in which way the wine was produced. It is feared that the EU markets will be flooded with cheaply produced artificial wines from the USA. Quite a few of these techniques are called wine adulteration (pantschen). Among other things, "purity laws" are demanded. However, this is probably unrealistic. A control would probably be bureaucratically so complex that the success seems very doubtful.

Some controversial techniques have also been common in Europe for some time and are permitted by the EU, at least for experimental purposes. These mainly include agents used in fermentation such as special yeasts, enzymes and nutrients, as well as processes such as osmosis (reverse osmosis), and the use of RTK (rectified concentrated grape must) and concentrated grape must. One solution could be for winegrowers to form quality associations that agree on certain processes and also strictly control their use so that consumers can rely on them.

At the end of 2008, Australia also agreed to abandon the European terms of origin, which have always been misused, such as Burgundy, Champagne, Port, Sherry or Sauternes. An agreement between the EU and Australia will regulate their use in a new way. Australia agreed to renounce these terms after a one-year transitional period from the beginning of 2010. In return, however, the right will be granted to export Australian wines with reduced alcohol to the EU, which was previously prohibited. These are products in which part of the alcohol has been removed, for example by means of osmosis (reverse osmosis).

Common organisation of the market in wine

In June 2006 the EU published a policy paper on a reform of the Common Market Organisation for wine. The aim was to take appropriate measures to counteract the declining trend in consumption (minus 750,000 hl annually) and the sharp increase in imports of wine from third countries. An EU-wide overproduction of 27 million hectolitres of wine was forecast for 2010, which would have represented almost 15% of the total production volume. At the time, this surplus production threatened to cause drastic losses of income for the member states in the wine sector.

After corresponding discussions in the EU bodies involving all EU wine-growing countries, the new wine CMO (Common Market Organisation for wine) came into force in August 2009. Transitional periods are provided for the implementation of the various measures. Most affected are the wine labelling law, various oenological practices and a grubbing-up campaign. The most serious change is probably the introduction of the internationally established principle of origin, which will result in new wine quality levels. This is described in detail under the keyword quality system.

Within the framework of the agreed grubbing-up campaign, around 160,000 hectares of vineyards were eliminated by 2011. However, the release of the vine planting from 2018, which was also decided, was withdrawn again in 2013 and the planting rights were reorganised. In the oenological processes, there are changes in enrichment (increasing alcohol content), sulphurous acid (limits), sweetening (increasing residual sugar) and wood chips (oak chips). As a further change, quality wine within the EU can now also be bottled in containers such as bag-in-box, PET bottle and Tetra Pak.

Vitop® Zapfhahn  / Bag-in-Box

Keywords relevant to wine law

In the following, the most important wine-law relevant terms, some of which have already been mentioned, are listed. The legal provisions are based on EU regulations. Naturally, there are always changes or amendments. In detail, the regulations are often different for each wine-growing zone and/or wine quality level. In addition, the countries often have the possibility to obtain exemptions, mostly climatically or traditionally, or a certain leeway:

further information

The individual keywords list in detail all important wine law issues. All aids, work and measures in the vineyard during the vegetation cycle can be found under vineyard care. Complete lists of the numerous cellar techniques, as well as a list of the types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law can be found under the keyword vinification.

Picture: from Gordon Johnson on Pixabay

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