E.U. Repeals Wine Ruling In Victory for Traditionalists

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

PARIS, June 9 -- Wine connoisseurs everywhere, rejoice.

The European Union, bowing to an outcry from traditional vintners, has reversed itself and decreed that the cut-rate technique of mixing red wine with white does not make an authentic rosé and thus cannot be used by Europe's winemakers.

The decision, announced Monday at the union's headquarters in Brussels, represented a victory for French winemakers who had risen up against plans by the E.U. agriculture commission to end its ban on mixing as a way to compete with down-market rosés concocted by producers in such countries as Australia and South Africa. More broadly, it was a rare retreat by the forces of globalization and profit margins in the face of resistance from traditional artisans.

"It's important that we listen to our producers when they are concerned about changes to the regulations," the union's agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said in a communique. "It's become clear over recent weeks that a majority in our wine sector believe that ending the ban on blending could undermine the image of traditional rosé."

For winemakers from southern France who regard the production of delicate rosés as their God-given heritage -- and livelihood -- it has been clear for a lot longer than recent weeks. For ages, they have proclaimed that the only proper way to make rosé wine is to allow grape skins to macerate in the juice for an artfully measured moment before fermentation begins.

The sensitive process may cost more than mixing red with white, they argued, but it is the only way to get the transparent pink color, captivating aromas and fragile structure of a true rosé, a wine that evokes the sunshine, sea breezes and rocky soil of its Mediterranean origins.

The agriculture commission bureaucrats in Brussels had nothing against such traditions. But they decided in January that keeping costs down by allowing mixing was the best way for European producers to conquer emerging markets in such countries as the United States and China. To add insult to injury, France's own representatives on the commission voted with the majority to approve the change.

The winemakers of the rosé-heavy Cotes de Provence region assailed France's agriculture minister, Michel Barnier, and insisted that he do something to preserve the tradition of the authentic rosé. Barnier, who was elected a member of the European Parliament in Sunday's continent-wide elections, rose to the challenge during his campaign, buttonholing ministers across Europe and lining up a bloc of votes to reverse the new rule in a second vote scheduled for June 19.

Greece weighed in with opposition, for instance, as did Germany, Hungary and Italy. The agriculture commission saw the ground shifting and, even before the vote, withdrew the regulation, which would have allowed a blend of red and white wine be sold as rosé starting Aug. 1.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company