Aussie wine producers fear $400 million loss if Italy registers geographical indication for prosecco

What’s so special about prosecco?

In Australia, the term “prosecco” is well known as a late-ripening grape variety used to make sparking white wine. Prosecco wine, with its mild flavour and large bubbles, has traditionally been the fundamental ingredient of those late afternoon Aperol Spritzes that leave many Australians feeling a little dusty on a Sunday morning.

Prosecco wine was first produced in Australia in 2000 by Otto Dal Zotto, an Italian migrant from the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene region in Italy. Since its humble beginnings, the Australian domestic prosecco industry has become extremely lucrative. Currently, the industry has an estimated net worth of $60 million with this figure set to rise to $200 million within five years. While the Australian domestic market is small compared to the billion-dollar global market dominated by Italian prosecco, its rapid growth has caught Italy’s attention.

The dispute

During informal discussions for Australia’s post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU), Italy requested a geographical indication for prosecco to prevent Australian wine makers using the term.  Italy’s justification for enforcing a geographical indication centres on the belief that “prosecco” refers to the town of Prosecco and not the grape variety.

Interestingly, in 2009, Italy officially changed the name of the prosecco grape variety to “glera”. Following this name change, Italy successfully registered prosecco as a geographical indication in multiple Asian countries. Following this success, in 2013, the European Commission took steps to register prosecco as a geographical indication in Australia. This movement was challenged and overcome by Australian wine producers.

Now, with informal negotiations over the new Australia-EU FTA warming up, Italy is again attempting to put prosecco on the map by forcing Australian producers to ditch the famous name.

The Australian position

It is estimated that a name change could see the Australian domestic prosecco market lose $400 million dollars. Australian wine producers have begged the Federal Government not to “trade away” prosecco during FTA negotiations. Ross Brown, Executive Director of Brown Brothers, told the Weekly Times, “It’s quite a sleight of hand for the Italians to claim prosecco as a geographical indication when for so long it’s been a grape variety … it’s a commercial claw-back opportunity.”

Federal Opposition workplace relations and rural and regional Australia assistant spokeswoman, Lisa Chesters recently expressed her concerns over the implications of geographical indications to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I’ve got serious concerns about geographical indicators because where does it begin and where does it end?” she stated. “It would be the equivalent of you can no longer call pizza pizza … what do you call it and how do you market that?”

The Italian position

Italy is clearly very unhappy with Australia’s prosecco success. Luca Giavi, director of the Prosecco DOC Consortium, spoke to Drinks Business saying, “Some Australian producers are attempting to mislead consumers about the origin and the characteristics of their product … why isn’t Australian prosecco sold with other Australian wines? Why is it put on the shelf with Italian wines? Why is it that very often, in the labelling of the product, reference is made to Italy or to the ‘Italianness’ of the producers?”

What’s the lesson here?

If you’re unfamiliar with geographical indications, they are names or symbols on a product that identify its ties to a specific location. They usually indicate that a product was either produced in the specific area or made using particular traditional methods or ingredients. The purpose of geographical indications is to protect traditional products that survive through their distinct history and character.

Geographical indications are governed by international law. Although they are not strictly trademarks, they do prevent trademarks being registered on products sporting misleadingly similar names to the protected product. To relate this to our prosecco example, Italy successfully stopped Croatia selling their sweet wine labelled “Prošek” because it sounded too similar to prosecco.

While Australia is quite bitter about Italy’s attempt to claim prosecco, we do have a rather extensive list of our own geographical indications. In fact, Australia has an entirely separate way of registering geographical indications for wine, which is administered by the Grape and Wine Authority. Protected wine locations in Australia include the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and South Australia.

The takeaway message here is to think twice before choosing a name that has location ties. Before you label your new product “Scotch Whiskey” or “Irish Cream”, check whether there is a geographical indication registered for the name.  You wouldn’t want to build customer loyalty around a brand that could be in breach of international law. So, before you call your new product “Budějovické pivo” (no joke Budweiser actually has a registered geographical indication for this term), make sure you thoroughly check there aren’t any trademarks or geographical indications already registered for the name.

Want to know more about trademarks and geographical indications? Looking for an experienced solicitor in Newcastle, Sydney or the Hunter to advise you on intellectual property law? Call us on (02) 4929 7002, email us or complete an enquiry form.

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