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Italy leading charge to block six grape varieties native to U.S. from European markets
From:Xinhua  |  2019-02-08 23:27

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ROME, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Italy is leading a push to block a European Commissioner's proposal that would open markets to six grape varieties native to the United States, arguing that doing so could hurt Europe's image as the producer of the world's top quality wines.

Italy is currently the world's biggest producer of wine in terms of volume, just ahead of France and Spain, according to data from the International Organization of Vine and Wine.

But the wine landscape is changing. In recent decades, non-European viticulture areas like the west coast of the United States, as well as South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand have all emerged as producers of high quality wine.

To help preserve Europe's role atop the list of major wine producers, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has proposed opening European markets to six varieties of grapes native to the United States and not grown commercially in Europe: Clinton, Herbemont, Isabelle, Jacques, Noah and Othello.

The grapes are more resistant to diseases that often plague native European varieties, creating a positive environmental impact by allowing farmers to use more ecological farming methods. Additionally, because the grapes represent hardier strains they can be grown in harsher conditions than most grapes, perhaps opening new parts of Europe to wine production.

But the Italian government and leading industry groups have been helping to lead the charge against Hogan's proposal.

"Most European producers don't just strive to produce wine, the goal is to produce quality wine, which is incompatible with these new grape varieties," Ottavio Cagiano de Azevedo, director general of Federvini, an association of Italian wine producers, told Xinhua.

The issue has been taken up on the highest levels of government. Media reported that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte discussed opposition to the six varieties during face-to-face meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris last year, for example.

Additionally, Undersecretary for Italy's Ministry of Agriculture Franco Manzato told lawmakers in Brussels last month that the characteristics of the six varieties "would hinder the commercialization" of the grapes in Europe. He called for the proposals to allow them to be grown commercially in Europe to be dropped.

Cagiano de Azevedo said the six varieties are rarely used for wine production even in the United States, where they are most commonly used as table grapes or for grape juice.

"Every once in a while, someone on the European Commission suggests this idea," Cagiano de Azevedo said. "But we aren't interested."

Domenico Bosco, head of the wine division for agriculture union Coldiretti, also said in an interview that the debate over the use of the six varieties to make wine in Europe should go no further.

"These grapes don't fit into our tradition and they don't produce a high quality wine and the story should end there," Bosco said.

Sandro Romano, a vinicultural consultant based in Frascati, near Rome, told Xinhua that while few winemakers would be tempted by the varieties it is best to block them from the market.

"It could begin with a few producers who had bad luck with vine disease or bad weather trying them out and then it would start to effect the quality of wine," Romano said.