GERMANY WANTS WINE ''PURITY'' LAW
BRUSSELS, Belgium - 12/21/05 - The European Union approved a trans-Atlantic agreement on US-made wine imports into the European market recently, but Germany has reportedly called for the imposition of a "purity law" to protect EU-produced wines from US vintners' practices such as adding water to dilute alcohol content and aging wine with woodchips to improve flavor.
German Farm Minister Horst Seehofer said that a new EU code needed to be applied to assure the quality of European wines and that the practices "are just unimaginable in our wine culture."
EU officials said it might be the wave of the future, though, since the EU-US agreement would validate the right of American companies to export wines based on their production techniques.
The EU is even moving toward considering wood chip practices.
Tradition-bound Europeans prefer to use expensive oak barrels to age wine and to produce a distinctive toasty, smoked vanilla flavor.
However, adding wood chips achieves virtually the same results and only costs a fraction of using barrels.
Germany, Austria, Portugal, and Lithuania opposed the original EU-U.S. agreement, but the deal still went through since it did not need unanimity, EU officials said.
The transatlantic wine trade is worth some $2.8 billion a year with most US exports produced in California.
Two months ago, European lawmakers accused the US industry of cheapening wine by using the new methods, with Seehofer telling media sources that he feared genetically modified products could end up in the wine "without showing on the label."
Under the deal reached by EU and US negotiators in Washington in September, the two sides will mutually recognize each other's winemaking practices, setting the stage for more detailed talks on protecting geographical indications and the status of low alcohol wines.
Faced with the new agreement, Italy has asked for a change in EU law to allow the use of wood chips. The EU has already allowed scientific testing but the practice is still banned commercially.
Many EU member states have said they want to approve the deal to avoid burdensome certification procedures that might further slow sluggish sales outside of Europe.
The White House has asked Congress to change the status - and limit the use of 17 European names on American wines such as Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Sherry and Tokay that until now have been considered "semi-generic" in the US.
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