You don’t expect to find so much politics in a booze mag, but
there’s an intriguing story in a recent edition of the Drinks Magazine. Relations between
Britain and Argentina have been very fraught of late, so the good folk at Chapel Down, the internationally renowned vineyard in Kent, decided to promote peace and goodwill by importing Malbec
grapes from Argentina to make a special English wine, called ‘An English Salute‘, to mark World Malbec Day, which took place on
Tuesday. The vineyard planned to sell the wine in Gaucho, the chain of Argentine-themed steakhouses.
However, the European Commission blocked this neat marketing initiative on the grounds that grapes imported from outside the EU and crushed in Kent cannot legally be called wine (or indeed
Malbec). Chapel Down has 1,000 or so bottles of “sensational” wine that it cannot sell, even if it is renamed ‘Succulent and Stimulating Formented Berry Beverage’
or words to that effect.
There is more to this story than jokes that date back to Yes Minister and the euro-sausage. First of all, the episode underlines
the EU’s protectionist bent. The naming laws are designed to protect established European growers and producers from surplus grapes grown in the New World, which could be
fermented and bottled anywhere in Europe. There is not consistency across the drinks industry because the same prohibitions do not exist for brewers, many of whom rely on imported
There is also an attempt to reverse the EU’s 2008 wine reforms, which liberalised planting rights to increase the volume of
wine produced within the bloc itself. The 2008 reforms benefitted small vineyards, like those in the UK, because it allowed them to buy grapes from regions with surpluses. Traditional
producers, which is a euphemism for France, Spain and Italy, complain that quality (and therefore the exorbitant prices charged by many for their wines) is being undermined by
increased quantities of wine. The threat to the 2008 reforms reiterates the sense that the stock response to continued European economic adversity is to tinker with the single market
— think Tobin taxes, e-commerce regulations, shelved CAP reform etc.
Second, the Foreign Office, for reasons that aren’t wholly clear, is apparently trying to avoid publicity about Anglo-Argentine relations at this time. Its stance perhaps explains why the
Commons All Party Group on Argentina, chaired by the Eurosceptic Robin Walker MP, has remained silent on the Malbec story, even though it shows
the two nations in a co-operative light. But high-flying UKIP have sensed the opportunity for a stunt. They
will be throwing an English Malbec party in Brussels next month.