31/10/2011

Organic wine

Question from MEP Elisabetta Gardini (EPP)

It is increasingly common to find on European supermarket shelves so-called ‘organic wine’, a product which owes its popularity to the upward trend in the organic market in general. In reality it is wine from organically grown grapes, so that it would be more correct to describe it as a product of organic farming, since no regulations exist on organic wine production. The wine itself is actually produced by means of normal oenological techniques, such as the addition of sulphur dioxide to prevent oxidation.

Currently in Europe some 93 000 hectares of vineyards are devoted to organic wine production, the growth-rate in the past two years having been 23%. Yet, despite the strong growth of the market and the marked interest displayed by consumers, no regulation on organic wine has yet been adopted in Europe. For years, this legislative vacuum has been due to the absence of agreement on the quantity of added sulphites recommended by the Commission, which improve the aroma and colour of wine. Member States in whose territories sunshine is either in somewhat short supply or even seriously lacking oppose substantial limits on sulphites, particularly in white and rosé wines.

In view of the encouraging sales figures for this product, which represents a production niche still very much ripe for exploitation, and bearing in mind consumers’ right to be able to purchase a genuine organic wine and not merely a wine produced from organic grapes, can the Commission indicate how it intends to organise round tables which take account of the various national authorities which are currently at odds over this issue?

Furthermore, does the Commission consider the designation which currently appears on these products, ‘from organic grapes/farming’, to be adequate to inform consumers correctly?

Answer given by Mr Ciolos on behalf of the Commission

The Commission had introduced its proposal on rules for organic wine-making in June 2010. The proposal is technically based on the outcome of the EU research project ORWINE. This project gathered data and information from the main wine producing countries in Europe. Moreover, the contributions of Member States and stakeholders were taken into account without compromising the organic objectives and principles. Nevertheless it was not possible to find sufficient Member State support for the proposal at that time.

Pending the inclusion of specific organic wine-making rules in Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008, the Commission extended the transitional rule in place which allows for the extension of labelling rules which existed until 1 July 2010. As a consequence, the mention "wine made from organic grapes" in the labelling will continue to be tolerated on the market until the 2012 wine harvest. Such wines cannot bear the organic production logo of the European Union. The corresponding Commission Regulation (EC) No 344/2011 is published in the Official Journal of 8 April 2011 (L 96).

The Commission remains convinced that organic wine must be urgently defined at EU level, in the consumers' interest and to safeguard the EU's international leadership in this area. In order to reach a final solution as soon as possible, the Commission has re-opened the discussion on rules for organic wine-making with Member States in the Standing Committee on Organic Farming on 7 and 8 July 2011, where a new working document was presented.