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EU wines need grape names on bottle labels

The European Union, the world's biggest wine producer and consumer, must simplify labels and allow grape names on bottles to compete with imports from the US and Australia, said farm chief Mariann Fischer Boel.

EU wine producers are battling both surging imports and falling consumption. The 25-nation bloc makes and drinks about three-fifths of the world's wine and in less than a decade has seen imports from countries such as the US, South Africa and Chile almost double to €2 billion ($2.5 billion). In contrast, EU exports are stagnating at almost €4 billion a year and Europe's share of the global market is falling. Fischer Boel, the EU's agriculture commissioner, wants the EU's labeling rules improved to allow the grape variety and year of harvest to be shown on bottles of lower-quality table wines that don't have a geographically recognized link. That practice is common on wines from other parts of the world but is outlawed under current EU rules that protect regional products. „People just don't ask for anything, but say `let me get a glass or a bottle of that,”' she told reporters in Luxembourg after a meeting of EU farm ministers. „New World” wines label their bottles with grape varieties such as chardonnay or sauvignon, she said, „so we need to head in the same direction.” Fischer Boel wants the bloc's €1.3 billion wine budget overhauled to provide more money for marketing wines and scrapping a system of paying producers to turn their surplus into vinegar or industrial alcohol.

„To spend money distilling wine no one wants to drink makes no sense,” she said last week, adding that she was dismayed the bloc spent only €14 million last year to promote wine while €506 million was spent on programs to take the surplus off the market, such as distillation and public storage. „We need to be much more forward-looking” on marketing, Fischer Boel said. Last week, the EU allocated €450 million to help winemakers change grape varieties, improve their management techniques or relocate their vineyards. The bloc has proposed giving farmers a total of €2.4 billion over five years to compensate them for ripping out 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres) of vines, or 12% of the current planted area, to cut surplus production. Unless the EU can agree on how to change the wine industry, the bloc's surplus may rise to 15% of production within four years from an average of 10% now, the commission estimates. Fischer Boel plans to present formal proposals to revamp the industry by May and aims to reach an agreement with EU governments by the end of 2007. (Bloomberg)