Just bought vineyards in France ? Just a minute…. PART 4 The traditional terms

Last time, we saw the European regulation concerning the 85/15% Rule. (Part 3)

Here is another big labelling issue for French wines and spirits: The EU legislation makes the difference between two types of information : The « mandatory » notices must necessarily appear on the labeling of the bottle (Contents, alcoholic strength or provenance of the wine) , and the words say « optional » which notes the indication of a possibility for some operators, those optional mentions are regulated.

Among these « optional » references, one can find notably including the type of grape or vintage, as well as of traditional terms. Under EU Regulation (EC) 607/2009, they must meet the following definition:

« A term traditionally used in Member-State:

a) to indicate that the product has a protected designation of origin or a protected geographical indication under Community law or the law of a Member State, or

b) to designate the method of production or aging or the quality, color, type of place or a particular event linked to the history of the product with a protected designation of origin or a protected geographical indication ‘ .

To illustrate this definition with two inputs with regard to France:

Category a) includes statements such as: « Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée », « Vin de Pays » or « Vin fortifié ».

Category b) groups for its references as diverse as « château », « clos » « Cru », « vendanges tardives » and « Cru Artisan ».

For each of these indications, the regulation specifies what type of wine is eligible for its use. Thus, only the appellation « Alsace », « Alsace Grand Cru » and « Jurançon » can use on their labels the traditional term “Vendanges tardives” (‘late harvest’). Similarly only the appellation Médoc can use the word « Cru Artisan ».

Once registered, the traditional term has a statutory protection against all forms of false or misleading use. Thus, traditional terms are protected against the registration of later marks designating products that are not likely to benefit from those regulated terms.

For example, the trade mark application « XXXX Cru artisan Domain » should be automatically refused if it designates an AOC Côtes de Provence, or the general category of “wines” without specification.

Caution, however, protection of these traditional expressions has two important limitations:

– They are protected only for the product of the vine to which they correspond. This means that we can not rely on this law to prohibit a whiskey to use the term « Grand Cru » for example (it will be necessary in this case to resort to other legal levers).

– They are protected only in the language in which they were recorded. Thus, the use of « late harvest » for a Spanish wine for example, yet literal translation of « vendanges tardives » can not be prevented in support of this legislation.

Jean-Baptiste THIAL de BORDENAVE, Head of LexWine (@LEXWINE_IP)