Beyond GI Part 3

“Beyond GI” Part 3

Transition of the New World

One of the delaying impediments to adoption of similar regimes in the New World has been the greater focus on varietal and branded wine labelling, with origin long deemed secondary by many producers and, indeed, also by most consumers. By contrast, in much of the “Old World” of Europe the actual grape varieties, although restricted in regulatory terms, have long been considered secondary to the notion of terroir.  It perhaps says much that prior to the institution of the appellation d’origine system that there was almost certainly greater varietal change and adaptation in parts of France.  The current varietal mix in Bordeaux, for example, is quite different to that of the mid-19th century prior to the arrival of phylloxera and the mildew infections later that century.

It is open to surmise that climate change may not only allow quality wine grapes to be produced in areas where no grapes have been grown before, or for a considerable period, but that it may also cause existing grape varieties, presently required under restrictive appellation laws in France, for example, to become unsuited to fine wine production.  It may become optimal from a quality perspective to adopt alternative varieties when changes to viticultural practices (which themselves may require legal flexibility) are inadequate to cope.

Practical Lessons From Afar to Apply to New Zealand

Avoid too many GI designations (especially if they are not distinctive)!

In some regions this is a relatively simple situation – as those regions are either relatively small or clearly demarcated from a practical geographic perspective, there are not too many identifiable and distinctive growing districts within them.  Such examples would appear to include the largest in New Zealand: Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.

Other parts of New Zealand may be smaller in the context of total production, but that production is also more dispersed.  These may indeed be the areas at risk of over division into sub-regional designations.

One of the most obvious examples is Auckland.  Where once Auckland dominated the industry, it now comprises just 2% of national production and that is also highly dispersed among a large group of generally very distinctive sub-regions (including, at the risk of omission: Kumeu/Huapai, Matakana, Clevedon, Waiheke and several others). 

At the present time few, if any, Auckland producers use Auckland as a source description on their labels.

The Waikato/Bay of Plenty region is even more difficult, in part because from a legal territorial as well as historical perspective it is not a single region at all, while the effective boundaries are different for different purposes.  The difficulties of this region are exacerbated by the fact that production is both small and very widely dispersed.  It may be logical to divide the region, given that the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions have little in common other than being neighbours.  To date no one has, and it is extremely unlikely anyone would ever use “Waikato Bay of Plenty” as a label designation. 

Issues abound elsewhere.  While Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Nelson, for example, are relatively easily defined, subregions within these districts are either well defined already or are becoming so.  By contrast the region known as Waipara, while from a local Government perspective falling within Canterbury has for some time sought to have itself defined very separately. Must it go backwards to go forwards?  And, if so, how does it build its own hierarchy of sub-areas, should it wish to do so?  What also of the very new producing areas, such as the Waitaki Valley, or even the likes of the Cheviot Hills, each falling within wider territorial regions as do larger and better known wine regions, but nevertheless quite unique should they continue to grow and develop.

The corollary risk, however, is that of “over designation” that could result if too many single producer districts emerged instead, in turn leaving huge potential gaps on the map that might create problems for the next generation of pioneers.

The message then is clearly to avoid defining sub-regions too narrowly.  This has the potential to stifle future development or innovation.

Just as important, it is essential to avoid where at all possible the overlay of other restrictions or regulations.  This is a difficulty when there may be an urge to treat a hierarchy of designations as requiring qualitative delineation.  Even minimal regulations inevitably grow over time.

It is essential that designations must be able to be mapped definitively.  This was a difficult issue in Coonawarra, and consequently may be a difficulty to flag in future for areas such as the Gimblett Gravels and Martinborough Terrace should soil be used as a basis for delineation.  Moreover, Gimblett Gravels raises the question of whether access to a designation should be dependent on “membership” of any association or other legal body?

The risk of using designations that cover too small a pool of complying producers or properties cannot be ignored as it has frequently created problems in Europe.  The only exception may be those cases of very special circumstances should there be a minimum number of qualifying (and agreeing) producers.

Conclusion

While trade pressures, rather than qualitative or market protection imperatives, have dominated the geographic indications agenda through most of the New World wine producers, that does not mean that value cannot be gained from the exercise. However, the experience of European and New World experience of geographic indications must be reflected on as part of the process for adopting a new system.  That experience includes controversy and provides salutary reminders that while there may be market benefits there are also associated risks, especially on market structures.  These risks must be reflected in the practical details of how implementation is executed in New Zealand. 

What must further be reflected on is the extent that geographic indications systems turn regional industry bodies into de facto regulators and, ultimately, may elevate the regional marketing imperative over that of national brand marketing.  There are already the signs of this process developing.

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