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Prosecco, Italian wine industry against the recognition of “Prosěk”

From UIV to Federvini, from Coldiretti to Alleanza Cooperative: a question of principle in defense of the protection of Designations of Origin
The rows of Asolo Prosecco

With 20 days to go before the deadline for submitting an opposition to the application for recognition of “Prosek” to the European Union (the Italian opposition must be sent to the offices of the European Commission by November 21, ed.), the united institutional and political working group between the Ministry of Agriculture, the Veneto Region, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region, protection consortia and wine sector organizations on the most urgent dossier on the table in the wine sector, which met today in Venice to define the Italian strategy and position to be taken to counter the Croatian request, reiterates the united position of the Prosecco chain (and with it the whole Italian wine sector), which is obviously against the possibility offered by the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, of recognizing the traditional term “Prosěk”.

The points are well known by now, but it is worth repeating and reminding them. Recognition of “Prosěk” at European level would not only cause confusion among consumers but would also weaken the position of Prosecco, which has had the merit, since registration of the PDO in 2009, of investing and growing, becoming the bubbly of reference for wine lovers all over the world. This popularity would be exploited by the Croatian raisin wine without any merit, thus undermining the system for protecting EU designations of origin, which, on the contrary, would need to be strengthened in view of the bilateral agreements that Europe has signed, and will sign, with other economies around the world.

Moreover, beyond the questions of legislative and regulatory principle, which are obviously fundamental, there is one of an exquisitely historical nature (which does however have a legal value), recalled by the Coordinator of the Socialists & Democrats Group in the Agriculture Commission of the European Parliament in a question presented to the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, citing what was in fact recognized by the EU itself at the time of registration of the PDO. “We are at the point of paradox: the name of a specific place that designates a PDO, such as the village of Prosecco, risks being used as a traditional term for a product that has nothing to do with that place”, said Paolo De Castro. “The Union already registered the PDO “Prosecco” in 2009, recognizing that the first documents in which it is mentioned date back to the 17th century and speak of a white wine that originates in the territory of the village of Prosecco (Trieste). But that’s not all: there are official cartographies dating back to the 16th century in which the village of Prosecco was called Prosek in the then administration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, confirming that “Prosek” is nothing more than a translation of Prosecco”.

Hence the PD MEP's request for clarification to the EU Commissioner: “Is the Commissioner aware of these elements?” asks De Castro. “Has he considered whether they might not create consumer confusion before publishing the application for protection of the traditional term “Prosek” in the EU Official Journal? And how do you intend to ensure the correct application of EU legislation by the Member States, strengthening the respect of EU law on Geographical Indications? We continue to work on the basis of concrete evidence”, concludes the PD MEP, “to prevent the protected name “Prosecco”, one of the most emblematic at EU level, from becoming the object of imitations and abuses, particularly in the European Union”.

On the “Prosek” affair, the Unione Italiana Vini (UIV) - which, with its members, represents 75% of the production and bottling of Prosecco - is particularly surprised and concerned by the two-faced approach taken by the Commission in its task of defending the Geographical Indications system, which it itself helped to create. On the one hand, in fact, Brussels is conducting important work at international level to protect European designations of origin in agreements with third countries, while on the other, it would like to allow the recognition of a homonymous term evoking the name Prosecco within the EU. The result would be to weaken the protection and reputation of one of the most successful PDOs, which alone accounts for a third of world imports of sparkling wine and over 80% of sparkling wine bottled in Italy (525 million bottles).

Today, at the final meeting in Venice of the working group on the “Prosek” dossier, the Unione Italiana Vini (UIV) believes that the possible recognition of Croatian wine with a traditional indication of the same name will not only mislead consumers, but will also have the effect of diluting and exploiting the reputation and recognition created over the years by a geographical indication through huge investments, including those made to protect the name from infringement, both within the EU and in Third Countries. Prosecco’s work has had a driving effect on Italian wine exports, with sales of Italian sparkling wines increasing by 400% over the last 20 years. The UIV Wine Observatory also records a surge in exports in the first 7 months of 2021, with Prosecco growing by 32% in value to a value close to 700 million Euros.

The Unione Italiana Vini (UIV), which applauds the work of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Undersecretary, Gian Marco Centinaio, and the President of the Veneto Region, Luca Zaia, for the method of working and sharing adopted, finally emphasizes how all the institutional players involved have managed to team up and work as a country system. The image of wine as a fragmented and divided sector, the child of 100 bell towers and over 500 denominations, does not correspond to reality and belongs to a narrative that suits those who want the sector to be weak. For its part, UIV - Unione Italiana Vini is committed, as agreed with the Ministry of Agriculture, to expressing this opposition directly to the Commissioner for Agriculture, Wojciechowski, also involving its international partners, first and foremost the Comité Vins, which represents European wine companies.

“The battle against Prošek is not just a confrontation between Croatia and Italy, between those who intend to take advantage of the success of the Italian denomination to carve out a corner of the market and those who, like Italy, intend to defend the legitimacy of their rights tooth and nail”, explains Vittorio Cino, Federvini’s managing director. “It is this, but it is also a question of principle that should alarm not only Italy but all European countries that have a heritage of appellations to defend. The Croatian attempt comes only eight years after the official presentation of the application, when on 22 September the European Commission surprisingly allowed the formal procedure to begin. We have already raised the issue in Brussels with our European trade association, asking for and obtaining a strong stance against the Croatian request”, continues Federvini’s managing director, Cino. “Now we will intensify dialogue with our French, Spanish, Portuguese and German counterparts, so that the political pressure on the European Commission will also be maximum. It is necessary that, in addition to the preparation of a complete and exhaustive technical-juridical memorandum, the government makes a political effort to seek allies in Brussels, transforming the Italian-Croatian confrontation into an all-out battle for the protection of the European policy of defense and enhancement of quality products”.

As Coldiretti points out, less than 20 days remain to present the European Union with opposition to the application for recognition of Croatian Prosek and protect the real Prosecco, which, with export growth of 35% in the first six months of 2021, is the most consumed and counterfeited Italian wine in the world. “The conditions are in place to win this battle in Europe and avoid - Coldiretti underlines - a dangerous precedent that risks weakening the entire system of legal protection of trademarks. With its growing success, Prosecco has become the most imitated Italian wine abroad, with mispronounced names such as German Meer-secco, Kressecco, Semisecco, Consecco and Perisecco. But on the market - continues Coldiretti - Austrian Whitesecco, Russian Prosecco and Moldovan Crisecco have also arrived, while in Brazil, in the Rio Grande area, several producers are claiming the right to continue using the Prosecco denomination as part of the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur countries”.

“Prosecco - Coldiretti recalls - is the world star of bubbles thanks to a vertiginous increase in cross-border sales in recent years that consolidate its leadership at world level in terms of exported volumes ahead of Champagne and Cava. The United States has become the first purchaser of Prosecco bottles, with a 48% increase, but the greatest increase in sales - Coldiretti points out - has occurred in Russia where purchases have more than doubled (+115%) while Germany has gained 37%, followed by France (+32%), the country of Champagne, where Italian bubbles are scoring a significant victory away from home, in the first six months of 2021. The production of Prosecco embraces two regions (Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia), nine provinces and three denominations of origin (Prosecco Doc, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Docg and Asolo Prosecco Docg) for a total production estimated to grow to - concludes Coldiretti - 700 million bottles after collecting in 2019 the Unesco recognition for the Prosecco Hills”.

As pointed out by the Undersecretary for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies, Senator Gian Marco Centinaio, at the end of the final meeting of the opposition group to Prosek, “in view of the results of the working group, we now expect the EU Commission to put a stop to a clumsy and awkward attempt to copy our most important PDO, and to stop a dangerous precedent that would institutionalize Italian sounding and should therefore be opposed by all means”. At the end of the final meeting of the group opposing Prosek in Venice today, Centinaio stressed that today it had been “reiterated that Prosecco represents exclusively Italian typicality and that Prosek is an imitation, an evocation. Our technicians have put down in black and white all the reasons for saying no to the Croatian request. We have found historical and legal reasons that make us optimistic. The entire Country System”, continues the Undersecretary, “has worked together to defend one of the excellences of our agri-food heritage, as well as the greatest commercial success of recent years. In 2020”, Centinaio recalls, “500 million bottles were produced for a consumer turnover of 2.4 billion euro. In the last five years, both exports and the value of production have increased by 30%, reaching a share of 25% of the total national value of PDO wine. A heritage that is also recognized by Unesco and linked to territorial identity, our distinctiveness and our culture, which we cannot allow to be put at risk. The Commission must now be the guardian of the European Treaties and defend Italy’s 838 PDOs and PGIs, as well as all the PDOs of other EU countries, from imitation and evocation. We expect it to do this to the end. We have worked hard and in unison in the task force to develop Italy’s opposition. I am confident that we will win. And we will not let our guard down until the final result”, Centinaio concluded.

The wine sector of Alleanza Cooperative Agroalimentare, through its coordinator Luca Rigotti, also stressed that the Prošek case violates the principles established at European level, because it is potentially capable of generating confusion and misleading consumers who, in some cases, “although they do not know the characteristics of Prošek and Prosecco products, recognize, or believe they recognize, the reputation of the name, corresponding to its literal translation”, recalled coordinator Luca Rigotti. We are at the forefront in supporting the procedure to oppose the application for recognition of “Prošek”, an application that we consider damaging to the supply chains and wine-growing areas of the three Prosecco Doc productions and the two Docg Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco and Asolo Prosecco, a segment of absolute economic and territorial value in which cooperation plays a leading role both at the production and commercial level. The fact that Prošek is a wine made from dried grapes and not a sparkling or semi-sparkling wine does not therefore exclude”, Rigotti continued, “that this circumstance cannot cause confusion in the consumer, also considering the recent rulings of the European Court of Justice, which on several occasions has guaranteed a wide range of protection for PDOs and PGIs, extended to all uses, including among other things services and not only products, as indicated in the Champanillo ruling, which exploit the fame of protected names. The Prošek case - concluded Rigotti - could represent a dangerous precedent and a picklock to weaken other PDO and PGI territorial supply chains in the future. This is why we have appreciated the united and coordinated action of the government, the Ministry of Agriculture, which has set up a specific working table, as well as the regions, the protection consortia and other associations and organizations in the wine sector”.

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