Yearly Archives: 1990

Deadline nears for French name wrangle

Historic material: From the Canberra Times Sunday 1 July 1990

IT’S TIME to stop stealing French names for our wine labels.

If the Australian wine industry is to exploit the huge European Community market after internal boundaries fall in1992, it must now phase out the use of European place names on the labels of wine sold in Australia and in those export markets which still allow their use.

We no longer need to use French names. To continue to fight in our courts for the right to appropriate them is futile. Even if we win the legal fights locally, we will be losers in the bigger battle. The French will certainly see to it that non-tariff barriers are erected around the world’s largest pool of wine drinkers if we dig in our heels.

A country that sinks ships in friendly ports won’t have any qualms at all about doing its best to keep Australian wine out of the EC.

Speaking at the inaugural Maurice O’Shea Award dinner in Sydney on June 22, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, John Kerin, made it clear to gathered leaders of the industry and press that progress in negotiations with the EC is conditional on this issue.

Our negotiations with the European Commission also present some new challenges,” he said. “If you are willing to place restrictions on the use of generic names of European geographical origin, the EC has indicated it is prepared to accommodate some Australian wine making practices. It will also agree to simplified certification of wine exports to the EC.

Following further consultations with industry over the next few months, I expect formal negotiations to be held in 1991 with the EC on a wine agreement with Australia,” Mr Kerin said.

Despite the closeness of this deadline, Australian wine companies are now doing battle with the French over the use of two French geographical names: Champagne (now in court in New Zealand) and Beaujolais (yet to be heard here in Australia).

These, and especially Penfolds current battle with the French Government over use of “Champagne” in New Zealand, were the subject of a bitter attack by Wolf Blass in Canberra on June 23.

He was in town to launch his 1985 Black Label Cabernet Shiraz (a superb drop). It was a clumsy, buffoon effort as trade functions go (surprising for a man whose wines are marketed with such aplomb), salvaged only by Wolfs brilliant and inspiring speech.

It was a speech of vision and hope for the Australian wine industry, replete with bouquets and brickbats hurled atlightning speed towards a dazzled audience.

Wolf sees an industry producing wines that excel on an international level. But faced with a sated domestic market, it’s an industry whose future lies in exporting.

Being culturally European, our wine companies should now be setting up European head offices in England (because of the common language) to take advantage of the greatest economic explosion in human history about to unleash itself on the Continent.

If Ian Mackley, managing director of Penfolds Wines, had been sitting in the audience at this stage of Wolf’s speech, he’d have copped a flying brickbat between the eyes.

Wolf is outraged that his ambitious plans for Europe may be jeopardised by Penfolds’ insistence on fighting the French in Australian and New Zealand courts over the use of French regional names on Australian wines.

Wine writer and expert witness for the French in their “Champagne” wrangle against Penfolds, James Halliday, believes Penfolds’ persistence is amazingly short-sighted, and bitterly opposes it on two grounds: firstly, he believes that Australian wines simply no longer need to “borrow or steal” French names, and secondly, he says “the French have made it clear they will not cooperate on Australian/EC wine matters without an undertaking to phase out the use of French geographical names”.

With Ian Mackley in New Zealand, I’ve been unable to gauge Penfolds’ response to this strong industry criticism.

As a major exporter of wine to Europe, you can bet that Penfolds have not taken on the French without giving thought to the EC ramifications of their actions. Perhaps they hope that by winning the right to use the word “Champagne” in New Zealand they can later negotiate a phasing out of French names on their own terms.

But meanwhile the clock moves quickly towards 1992. With Mr Kerin seeking an EC wine agreement with Australia next year, and relying on a phasing out of European names to achieve a satisfactory outcome, it’s not surprising people are becoming edgy with the belligerent stance being taken by Penfolds, Australia’s largest winemaker.

Mr Mackley was there to hear the Minister’s speech last Friday. Was he listening?

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 1990 and 1993