Thursday, May 24, 2007

EU to Propose Ban on Chaptalization

Europe's Agriculture Commissioner has proposed banning chaptalization, the historic practice of adding sugar to wine during fermentation to boost alcohol levels and enhance a wine's body.

Mariann Fischer Boel is set to unveil a wide range of measures to reform Europe's ailing wine sector July 4 but previewed her proposals in remarks that can be found here (thank you, Jancis).

Chaptalization, while not as frequently utilized now as it was fifteen or twenty years ago, nevertheless remains common practice in less ripe vintages even among some of the very best producers of Burgundy and Bordeaux. As reported here, Pierre Lurton of Cheval Blanc chaptalized in 1998 to increase the alcohol level of 8 perecent of his crop by 1 degree. In the more challenging vintages of 1992 and 1997, Lurton added sugar to even more of his crop. And the practice is even more ingrained in the winemaking of Burgundy, where ripeness (outside of a freakish year like 2003 or the miraculous 2005 vintage) remains a perpetual challenge. (Of course, global warming may change all of that.)

Fischer Boel's proposed ban comes as part of the EU's intended reforms of the sugar industry, with lowered subsidies and production quotas intended to bring down the EU's surplus of sucrose. Though this was not specifically addressed, the practice of adding concentrated grape must to wine, as opposed to sugar, may remain untouched. She also argued that the EU needs to bring the European wine industry in line with the guidelines of the World Trade Organization and the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), which both prohibit the use of sugar.

The other proposed reforms include:
-Extending the planting restrictions, now set to expire in 2010, until 2013
-Continuing the program of ripping out vines
-Removing subsidies for distilled alcohol made from industrial wines never intended to reach market
-Labelling the varietal and vintage on wine bottles

Fischer Boel famously said last year that Europe needs to allow producers to make "New World style" wines. These measures come as the EU struggles to come to grips with a crippling wine surplus.

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