Coffee House

The EU against new booze

20 April 2012

You don’t expect to find so much politics in a booze mag, but
there’s an intriguing story in a recent edition of the Drinks Magazine. Relations between
Britain and Argentina have been very fraught of late, so the good folk at Chapel Down, the internationally renowned vineyard in Kent, decided to promote peace and goodwill by importing Malbec
grapes from Argentina to make a special English wine, called ‘An English Salute‘, to mark World Malbec Day, which took place on
Tuesday. The vineyard planned to sell the wine in Gaucho, the chain of Argentine-themed steakhouses. 

However, the European Commission blocked this neat marketing initiative on the grounds that grapes imported from outside the EU and crushed in Kent cannot legally be called wine (or indeed
Malbec). Chapel Down has 1,000 or so bottles of “sensational” wine that it cannot sell, even if it is renamed ‘Succulent and Stimulating Formented Berry Beverage’
or words to that effect.

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There is more to this story than jokes that date back to Yes Minister and the euro-sausage. First of all, the episode underlines
the EU’s protectionist bent. The naming laws are designed to protect established European growers and producers from surplus grapes grown in the New World, which could be
fermented and bottled anywhere in Europe. There is not consistency across the drinks industry because the same prohibitions do not exist for brewers, many of whom rely on imported

There is also an attempt to reverse the EU’s  2008 wine reforms, which liberalised planting rights to increase the volume of
wine produced within the bloc itself. The 2008 reforms benefitted small vineyards, like those in the UK, because it allowed them to buy grapes from regions with surpluses. Traditional
producers, which is a euphemism for France, Spain and Italy, complain that quality (and therefore the exorbitant prices charged by many for their wines) is being undermined by
increased quantities of wine. The threat to the 2008 reforms reiterates the sense that the stock response to continued European economic adversity is to tinker with the single market
— think Tobin taxes, e-commerce regulations, shelved CAP reform etc.   

Second, the Foreign Office, for reasons that aren’t wholly clear, is apparently trying to avoid publicity about Anglo-Argentine relations at this time. Its stance perhaps explains why the
Commons All Party Group on Argentina, chaired by the Eurosceptic Robin Walker MP, has remained silent on the Malbec story, even though it shows
the two nations in a co-operative light. But high-flying UKIP have sensed the opportunity for a stunt. They
will be throwing an English Malbec party in Brussels next month.

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Show comments
  • Nik Darlington

    I attended UKIP’s ‘non-wine tasting’ in Brussels earlier this month (supportive of the case, not the cause) and tried the Malbec. Not bad. Fruity without being jammy, bit closed on the nose and young but give it another year in bottle and it’ll be fine.

    The usual luminaries were there. Mr Farage spoke himself puce as wine and was entertaining. Helmer circled the room like a blimp hoovering peanuts.

    And Marine Le Pen was there to stand shoulder to shoulder with her English friends – aside from her being somewhat taller than many of them.

  • Abdul Alhazred

    Puerto Rico gets a better deal from the USA than the UK gets from the EU.

    Wanna swap? :)

  • Malfleur

    Instead of getting into a syntactic twist with your sentence “…grapes imported from outside the EU and crushed in Kent cannot legally be called wine” (nobody calls grapes wine anyway – they call them grapes), why not just write “that wine made from grapes imported from outside the EU and crushed in Kent cannot legally be called wine”? Is it the shadow of the EU Commission internalised that leads the MSM to these contortions?

    The alternative, if Chapel Down finds it financially unacceptable to give the EU the real English Salute by using its its original label (I type digitally of course), is surely for the vineyard to highlight the laughing stock that the EU makes of itself when it is not engendering hatred by calling their wine “not-wine wine” – the phrase has an almost Anglo-Saxon ring, as in The Housecarl of Notwinewine…

  • daniel maris


    I don;t know about wine, but the Germans have laws to protect the purity of their beer.

    I am simply referring to the principle. If you don’t have laws, profit-orientated companies will put in all kinds of cr*p such as transfats, colouring, flavouring and so on.

  • El Sid

    This is a bit of a special case, but there’s normally only one reason why people risk grapes going mouldy by transporting them thousands of miles, rather than turning them into wine locally – and that’s to avoid paying duty. So long before we were in the EU you had HM Customs distinguishing between English wine (grown here) and the abomination that is “British wine” – made here from imported grapes, as a way of getting round import duties.

    There’s nothing wrong with protecting geographical specialities – it helps build your brand and ultimately allows a country to get higher prices for its exports. Which is a good thing surely? Wine may be one of the most obvious examples but these days everything from Arborath smokies to Yorkshire rhubarb are protected. It’s not just producers that benefit – these kinds of rules put an end to the Bordelais filling bottles of “claret” with muck from Algeria. Ah – the good old days.

    So I wouldn’t rail against the rules in principle – but in this case they should have been applied a bit more flexibly.

  • Dimoto

    daniel maris – Germany has been producing adulterated plonk “wine” for decades (see the famous Blue Nun).

    Argentine beef and wines are certainly best value for money.
    We should not confuse the farming community in the “camp” with the Peronist voting Buenos Aires mob.
    It is true that they keep voting in rabid Peronists who systematically destroy their economy, but then, we do the same with the Labour party. (motes in eyes etc.)

  • TomTom

    Argentina has been engaged in Managed Trade for some time. Apparently VW has to import cases of Argentinian wine as an offset when it sells Porsches in Argentina – and there are certainly enough reasonably priced Malbecs in England without needing to produce fake ones here

  • TonyS

    How does this protect European wine producers when the new world producers can export as much actual wine as they like into Europe? Most of the wine in supermarkets these days is from Australia, New Zealand and South America.

  • David Blackburn

    Julian Jones, thank you for pointing that out. I must have had Marx on the mind after reading about the absurd Malbec story.

  • daniel maris

    This article advocates a typical laissez faire approach. Food laws are important. We should protect our beer in the way the Germans do. It is important we don’t have adulteration and cheap pass-offs.

    UKIP are daft to get involved even though they are right on teh constitutional issue.

  • MilkSnatcher

    Suggest that Chapel Down call it Port…Stanley.

  • outsider

    Personally, I have been boycotting all Argentine products, effectively mainly wine these day, ever since its aggressive talk against our country was first reported.

  • Kennybhoy

    Maister B writes:

    “Second, the Foreign Office, for reasons that aren’t wholly clear, is apparently trying to avoid publicity about Anglo-Argentine relations at this time.”

    The FCO is being sensible. The YPF Oil and Gas seizures have made the Argies very unpopular in their own region and in the wider world. Do not interfere when your opponent is making a mistake. Best just to let them get on with it.

    Incidentally Maister B. I would have thought that these seizures were worth more than a single sentence in the Portrait of the Week section…?

  • Julian Jones

    “Groucho” ? Gaucho surely ?

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