Wine producers will be aware that on 1 December 2008, Australia and the European Community (EC) signed the Australia – European Community Agreement on Trade in Wine (Wine Agreement). It is envisaged that the Wine Agreement will make it easier for Australian wine producers to export their product to Europe (worth $1.04 billion in 2008/20091).

To give legal effect to the Wine Agreement, the Federal Government needs to amend the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980 and the Trade Marks Act 1995. Winemakers should note that this is likely to happen in May 2010, and are advised to prepare for the changes that will follow.

What the Wine Agreement does

  1. Protection of 112 Australian geographical indicators (GI) (eg: Hunter, Yarra Valley).
  2. Recognition of 44 specific Australian wine making practices (eg: the use of oak chips to add flavour).
  3. Relaxation of the EC rules about wine labelling to allow the inclusion of additional information required in Australia (eg: the number of standard drinks in a bottle of wine).
  4. Protection of 2,500 EC GI (eg: Sauternes, Hermitage) and other traditional expressions (TE) (eg: Château, Claret) used in EC wine naming practice.
  5. Phasing out the use of EC GI such as ‘Burgundy’, ‘Champagne’, ‘Moselle’, ‘Sherry’ and ‘Port’ by Australian wine producers within 12 months of the Wine Agreement coming into force.

Joint committee

The Wine Agreement will establish a joint committee of EC and Australian representatives with the power to recommend changes to the Wine Agreement and resolve disputes.

Trade mark issues

Although not yet part of Australian law, winemakers in this country need to think about how the Wine Agreement might affect their business practises. For instance, from 1 December 2008, an Australian wine producer is unable to register a trade mark or business name which contains or consists of:

  • an EC TE to describe a wine, or
  • an EC GI if the wine does not originate in the relevant EC geographical area.

These prohibitions do not apply to trade marks or business names legally registered in good faith in Australia before the Wine Agreement was signed. Despite this, the owner of a registered trade mark or business name must not use the mark or name in a way that might mislead a consumer.