02-Planeta_manchette_175x100
Allegrini 2018
WINE & POLITICS

Rejecting and accepting alcohol-free wine, though explanations are still necessary

The positions of Federvini, UIV, FIVI, Federdoc, Cooperatives, politics on the EU proposal that looks more towards markets than to tradition
ALLEANZA COOPERATIVE AGROALIMENTARI, DARIO STEFANO, EUROPEAN COMMISSION, EUROPEAN UNION, FEDERDOC, FEDERVINI, FIVI, GIAN MARCO CENTINAIO, UNIONE ITALIANA VINI, WINE, News
Wine in the future

The theme of wine dealcoholization burst onto the discussion table, beyond all expectations, during the recent CMO Wine trilogue. The issue offered interesting insights and more or less convergent points of view within the Italian wine supply chain. Paolo De Castro shed light on what, to date, has been the proposal that the vast majority of Member States has shared, and about which Coldiretti immediately raised barricades.
Now, instead, it is the turn of the main wine associations, Federvini, UIV, FIVI, Federdoc and Cooperative Alimentari, as well as political institutions to analyze the issue, including the critical and bipartisan rejections of the Undersecretary for Agricultural Policies, Gian Marco Centinaio and the Senator, Dario Stefàno. Altogether, the picture shows essential distinctions, which are very useful to understand what we are talking about through different points of view and interpretations. Basically, as the main players of the wine supply chain explained to WineNews, the first element of clarity within the complex question concerns the difference between lowering the alcohol content and partially or totally removing the alcohol content. On one hand, there is a winemaking practice that could solve the problems of high alcohol content wines, which are more and more frequent due to increasingly hot summers. On the other hand, there is a totally commercial need to propose something new that however, has very little to do with wine. According to UIV, the Italian wines union, it should remain as a product category, to open up a new market and prevent the big names in beverages from exploiting it.
Even though the various positions are quite diverse, they all converge on one point, notably, and that is, the inadequacy of the definition "wine", compared to wine without alcohol, or with low alcohol content. It is an extremely critical issue, upon which FIVI (Independent Winegrowers) is definitely opposed, but not however closing the door to the real issue; namely, the fact that European wine needs to compete with the New World producers on new and emerging markets. Perhaps they must focus on a product that doesn’t have a lot to do with wine, but that, in any case, derives from wine.
The General Secretary of Unione Italiana Vini (UIV), Paolo Castelletti, offered a pragmatic and accurate appraisal.
“We are being careful, but we are not alarmed about the issue of dealcoholized wines. The general manager, Agri, submitted their proposal back in 2018, on which Parliament and the Council expressed their views several months ago. According to Unione Italiana Vini, it is essential that these new categories remain within the family of wine products, as recognized by the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), to prevent them from becoming business for other industries outside the wine world, and therefore only Italian companies responding to market demands (especially from some Asian countries). The winemaking practices will be established during future meetings of the Commission. We are awaiting the final text on the details, but it is clear that the addition of water in no case is intended to lower the alcohol content. Wine is already composed of 85% vegetable water, which is the same water that, in the normal dealcoholization process, is extracted in the centrifugation phase and then reintegrated. From a political point of view”, added Castelletti, “the Italian Wines Union (UIV) supports the position of the European Parliament to not allow de alcoholated wines in the PDO and PGI productions. We, instead, consider it essential to actively follow the trilogue in progress in the interest of the producers and their businesses, because it is a market that is growing rapidly and it would be shortsighted to exclude a priori our product. The negotiation of the CAP reform”, he concluded, “has now entered into the most delicate phase, and we have asked Minister Patuanelli to pay the utmost attention to the trilogue conversations, because details are fundamental”.
The Wine sector of the Alleanza Cooperative Agroalimentari, (Agro-food Cooperative Alliance), is on the same wavelength as UIV, although it also warns that a definition in the draft text in circulation, could risk turning out to be a huge mistake: “ a product that is far from the original one and in which the addition of water is foreseen, cannot be called wine. This is an error that would completely distort the characteristics of a product that has a millenary tradition, as well as constitute a lack of transparency towards the consumer ”, said Luca Rigotti, Coordinator of the Wine sector of Alleanza Cooperative Agroalimentari “We are very concerned about the new approach that seems to be emerging in the texts that are circulating, because in the Commission's initial proposal, dealcoholized and partially dealcoholized wines constituted two new categories of wine. In the new text, instead, they have become the mere result of an oenological practice that would apply to the already existing categories of wine (still, sparkling, etc.)”, pointed out Rigotti.
Rigotti, instead, puts up no obstacles on the possibility of establishing a new category within the wine sector. “While agreeing on the opportunity that these rules will find space in the Regulations of the wine sector, and while not absolutely opposed to wines with low alcohol content, considering that they represent a commercial opportunity, especially in some countries”, explained Rigotti, the wine coordinator of Alleanza Cooperative Agroalimentari, “our position is that they should be have a different name, for instance, wine-based drinks”. If the proposed regulation is not modified, it will not even be necessary to make any changes to the specifications to produce a partially dealcoholized denomination wine. “And, what is even more serious”, continued Rigotti, “ is that wine producers and their consortia will no longer have the possibility to decide independently whether to accept this practice or not”.
Just to give you an example, one day we could find a product called "wine" on the market (without the production chain having made any choice to that effect), for example, a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC, that has an alcohol content of 2%. It is true that in the drafted text for PDO and PGI wines only partial dealcoholization is mentioned, but according to Rigotti, “this is in no way sufficient to protect quality wines”. Even more grave, according to Rigotti, is that the new text includes the possibility of “allowing the addition of water after dealcoholization to wine products, a practice that is currently prohibited throughout the EU. In Italy, the Consolidated Law on wine has introduced a ban on even keeping water in the cellar, including the water obtained from the concentration processes of musts and wines, recognized in all respects as a substance suitable for sophistication.
“We have often talked about dealcoholization at Federvini. It is a conversation that must be addressed, as a matter of competitiveness, at the European level, to find an agreement among all the wine producing countries”, Sandro Boscaini, president of Federvini and one of the most important producers of Amarone and Valpolicella, told WineNews. “We must distinguish between alcohol-free wine and dealcoholized wine, and obviously this should not be considered for PDO and PGI products, which have their own naturalness, including alcohol. It seems correct to me to be able to obtain a more palatable drink from wine, with less alcohol, and, therefore more competitive with other products, putting all producing countries in the same conditions. Instead, I believe that alcohol-free wine shouldn't be called wine - it's a different beverage. Wine must have alcohol; it's in its nature to have alcohol, even if at lower levels. An alcohol-free product is another drink, which comes from grapes but is not wine”, emphasized Sandro Boscaini.
What are the acceptable limits, then, at least hypothetically, for wine to still be considered wine? “We can think of several phases, as long as they are distinct, like everything that regulates wine. In my opinion, since there is the possibility of increasing the alcohol content of some products, there should also be the possibility of decreasing it, considering what nature gives us, because global warming tends to actually give products that are stronger, from an alcoholic point of view. I believe that a percentage point and a half or two more or less are tolerable considering the area of wine as we have always had. But, when we go further than that, we are actually producing another product, which may also be wine, or rather, dealcoholized wine, but it actually affects the sensory characteristics of wine. And, when there is no alcohol, we are really outside the sphere of wine”, continued the President of Federvini. This, however, does not mean that it is a product devoid of interest, “because grapes are a particularly valuable fruit, and wine is a product that has many other interesting characteristics, which are all coordinated by the alcohol content and without it, even if there are tannins and anthocyanins, it is no longer wine. In my opinion, it is very important that at least the OIV, or the EU, do not create competitive positions between countries on this issue, between liberals and traditionalists. I believe that it is worth taking up a common position, to safeguard both the product as well as healthy competition, on the values ​​of the product, and not on the shrewdness of being the first to do things that others cannot do”, concluded Sandro Boscaini.
FIVI, the Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers, led by Matilde Poggi, on the other hand, holds a quite different position on the issue. “FIVI has always been opposed to this practice, which we consider very invasive. Further, we believe that it is extremely dangerous to talk about the dealcoholization of designation of origin wines. Putting these products together with wine is dangerous, because it means that they would also be included with the CMOs and in the National Plan for the sector”. We do not see it favorably, even though we know there is a demand for these products, which we believe may interest the world of industry more, not, the world of artisan wine that we represent”, explained Matilde Poggi”.
“We were not prepared for this discussion to come up so quickly, so we will have to investigate further to find a solution, but the risk that these products will be part of promotion plans is a reality,
and we have never understood why there has always been so much pressure, i.e., who might be interested, apart from the industry. The industrial part of the supply chain has been pushing to prevent these products reaching the markets from other countries, because there is demand, but FIVI has no interest in entering into this sector”, continued the president of FIVI. She then continued by distinguishing between “heavily dealcoholized products, such as wine pops and wine-based products, and limiting lowering alcohol content as a response to climate change. In this I do, however, believe that we must intervene with a change in agriculture. There are viticulture practices that can bring us to the harvest with a little bit lower alcohol content. In this chaos, though, there is a lot of confusion between those interested in making products that have 4-5 percent alcohol content, starting from wine, and those who want to have the possibility of lowering the alcohol content by two or three percentage points, perhaps going from 15 to 12 percent, to follow consumption trends”, continued Matilde Poggi.
Poggi also confirmed, like many of her colleagues, that the wine making practice is useful for responding to a different wine and consumption market, “in which habits have changed, such as diet, lighter wines are preferred, and this is the reason that today, territories are winning by virtue of vines and climate that naturally lead to wines at 12-13 percent alcohol content. In others, instead, wines are never below 14 percent, and those are the wines that at are struggling in this moment”, concluded the president of FIVI.
Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, president of Federdoc, told WineNews, that they “still need to take some time to understand better, read up on and discuss, before saying anything about the issue. The topic is crucial and delicate, the process is just beginning and there will be time, after discussing it with all the Federdoc shareholders, to share a common position. It is, obviously, a topic that will need to be addressed, and that will be debated for a long time”.
The Undersecretary for Agricultural Policies, Gian Marco Centinaio, has very few doubts, instead, about totally rejecting the EU decision: “Europe never ceases to surprise us, on the negative side. A few days ago, they gave the green light for trade in flour moth larvae. And now, their proposal to add water to wine by removing the alcohol content. We are witnessing a dangerous tendency. In every location, and with all the tools available to us, we will say no to inappropriate policies that seem geared towards penalizing our excellent products”, commented Centinaio. “First, there was the attempt to insert a health warning message on the labels of alcoholic beverages, like there is on cigarette packages. Now, there is the hypothesis of partial and total alcohol removal as a new wine making practice. One wonders what the goal is. Is it favoring watered-down drinks or wine in packets of the wine kits with which the Northern Europe countries imitated Made in Italy wines? The EU must not give the green light to a practice hitherto considered unfair, a fraud to the detriment of the consumer and our economy. What would happen to our heritage of DOCG, DOC and TGI? We will defend all the denominations that make Made in Italy products great and that the whole world envies. We will fight with all means possible to defend what is our ambassador of excellence and an integral part of the Mediterranean Diet. Furthermore”, concluded Centinaio, “it is a fundamental element for the economy of the Country”.
Another very critical voice from the political world, that of Senator Dario Stefàno, president of the European Union Policies Commission, who, regarding the proposal, supported by a large majority in Brussels, to authorize in winemaking practices the total or partial elimination of alcohol and the possibility of adding water to wines, even those that have a designation of origin, is rather harsh. “Europe intends legalizing a practice that today constitutes the crime of “trade fraud”, causing damage to the main item in the Italian agro-food sector. At the very least, the term wine should not be included on the label, since it would not be wine. It is”, explained Stefàno, “a decision that, should it pass, will create confusion on the market, and risk fueling phenomena of fraud and counterfeiting, to the detriment of consumers who will find themselves paying for something that is not wine”, said the Senator of the Democratic Party (Pd).
“Using the term wine on the label”, continued Stefàno, “is associated with a centuries-old process of transforming grapes into must and then into wine. There are very strict PDO and PGI production regulations and which ensure the quality of the product, and guarantee consumers. While admitting”, underlined Stefàno, “the demand for products with a lower alcohol content on some products – if at all true, then spirits, certainly not wines – it is not acceptable to call a product for sale wine, where the practice “legalized” today constitutes the crime of “commercial fraud”. These products would have no link with the wines of our tradition and of the European tradition more generally, and they must not in any way show the word wine on their labels. It would be a slap in the face for the countless workers in the sector and directly damage, as Ettore Prandini, president of Coldiretti said, a sector that represents the main item of National agro-food exports, which counts 11 billion euros in turnover. I will take immediate action, even in the Commission”, concluded Senator Stefàno, “to alert our Government to preside over a wrong and harmful discussion”.

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