Faced with civil disobedience threat, Italian agriculture ministry issues new labeling guidelines

fivi federation italian grape growers independentAbove: the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers technical advisory board, including president Matilde Poggi (top row, third from left). Their t-shirts feature a quote from the song “Absolutely Sweet Marie” by Bob Dylan, “to live outside the law, you must be honest.”

On December 31, 2014, the Italian agriculture ministry issued new guidelines for the use of geographic mentions in wine industry labeling and marketing materials. The so-called “clarification” came in response to a threat of civil disobedience by the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers (FIVI). The group had called for its members to employ illegal labeling and marketing practices if the ministry did not act to address their grievance with restrictive EU norms.

“It is now possible,” according to a FIVI press release, “to use the name of a province or a region in labeling and marketing materials even when the name is registered as a DOCG, DOC, or IGT.”

In 2014, an Italian winemaker had been fined by government officials for using a geographical mention in marketing materials. The winery, a producer of Barolo, had used the place name “Langhe” in promotional media.

According to the Italian ministry’s interpretation of EU norms, even though the winery is located in Langhe (the Langhe hills of Piedmont), he was not entitled to use the geographic mention because it is the homonym of an appellation name (Langhe as in “Langhe Nebbiolo,” for example).

Many were bewildered by the seemingly absurdist application of EU law.

See this post for background on the controversy.

A number of prominent Italian wine trade members and observers had spoken out about the issue. And in November, FIVI called on its members to engage in civil disobedience if the ministry did not act by the end of the year.

In the FIVI statement, the group’s president Matilde Poggi expressed her satisfaction with the ministry’s new guidelines, calling it “an important step toward simplification and common sense.”

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