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Producing countries come out against EU wine reform

Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd and Dawn Cran
A number of Europe's largest wine-producing countries made pronouncements against the European Commission's draft proposals for the reform of the European wine sector last week, following a meeting of agriculture ministers in Brussels.

The proposal to uproot 400,000 hectares of vineyards - outlined by the EC's agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel in the European Parliament last month -has attracted the most bitter criticism.

According to European press reports the French minister for agriculture called the uprooting programme 'clumsy and unacceptable'. 'If changes to the common market for wine are necessary, several options put forward by the Commission can only be rejected by France,' he said. The Spanish minister warned that large parts of southern Europe faced desertification if large-scale uprooting was to occur.

The Italian minister said that 'the solution must be represented by reconversion of vineyards [into more popular varieties] rather than their uprooting', and added that distillation, which would end under the proposals, 'cannot be eliminated as a key measure to deal with crisis'.

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said the reaction from Continental Europe, was 'unsurprising': 'You always get these kind of reaction from countries that have subsidies on the line. What they have to realise is that there are very generous payments available to help convert vineyards to other forms of agriculture. I still firmly believe that the core of the original proposals will be included in the final legal proposals [to be released January 2007].

'There were some ideas that are in the draft that appear to be there to be negotiated away, like banning chaptilisation with sugar and the proposed timescale of implementation, but I believe that the core of the document will remain.'

In contrast to their European neighbours, the UK's wine-producing sector has given its strong backing to the proposals, according to Michael Roberts, owner of RidgeView Estate. Roberts is chairman of English Wine Producers and a member of the United Kingdom Vineyard Association (UKVA)'s subcommittee from the industry, which represents the UK's interests with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the EU.

Current restrictions limit English wine producers to 3.5 million bottles per year, and although this volume has not been exceeded as yet, it is likely to be reached by 2008. If the new proposals are accepted there is expected to be a complete eradication of planting restrictions across the whole of the EU by 2013, in addition to the abolishment of subsidies.

Furthermore, due to low production, England has never been eligible for subsidies and the proposed reforms would therefore bring the UK on to a level playing field with the rest of Europe.

Roberts told Harpers: 'These are very sensible proposals. All the EU has done so far is shore up poor-performing vineyards and penalise those who are doing well. We have always believed the UK wine industry should be allowed to increase up to 20-fold, but to remove planting restrictions altogether is even better.

'We see the proposals as a very positive step and we will help to push them through as soon as possible.'