The European Union is changing the legal definition of rosé, as part of an effort to loosen the continent's strict winemaking rules. But traditional producers of the pink-hued wines are none too happy about it.
Rosé has long been made by crushing red grapes, letting the juice extract a bit of color and flavor from the skins, and then draining the juice off before fermentation. The color of the resulting wine can range from a pale salmon color to deep pink. As part of an ambitious overhaul of European wine regulations, however, the European Union will legalize making rosé by blending red and white wines. That method is legal in Champagne (where the resulting rosé then undergoes a secondary fermentation) but rarely used elsewhere.
When the E.U.'s agriculture and rural development commission enacted a comprehensive wine reform plan in 2007, part of an effort to cut back on Europe's surplus wine production and make its wines more competitive, one measure was to loosen winemaking regulations to comply with the standards of the International Organization of the Vine and Wine (OIV). Many winemakers complained that European value brands couldn't compete with low cost wines from the Southern Hemisphere because laws forbid cost-saving techniques like using oak chips.
The commission developed a series of amendments to permitted winemaking practices, and the 27 member states gave it initial approval. One of the measures allows the new rosé technique. "The wine reform was agreed to by the 27 states," said Michael Mann, a spokesman for the commission. "The E.U. wine producers' body backed the change. An initial vote on the detailed implementing of rules on enological practices received a positive vote. France voted in favor."
According to Mann, the change is to make it easier for table-wine producers to compete with other wine regions, some of whom use this method. "Wines made in this way are already sold on our market, but only those produced outside the E.U.," said Mann. "That makes no sense to us. Why should we allow others to do it and ban our own producers from doing so?"
But rosé producers in traditional regions like Provence say this isn't the type of reform they want. "It's a classic example of French regulators focusing on entirely the wrong thing," said Charles Bieler, whose family makes rosé in Coteaux-d'Aix'-en-Provence and who has partnered with Charles Smith to produce a new Washington state rosé. "Mixing red wine and white wine will make a horrible rosé." Regional winemaker associations in Provence are also raising objections, calling on the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy to oppose the measure.
But the E.U. commission believes the new technique will help European rosé reach growing markets. Worldwide demand for rosé has risen sharply in the past decade. In the United States, sales of domestic "blush" wines have steadily declined for a decade, but sales of imported rosés, which tend to be dry, have enjoyed big increases, growing 16 percent in 2007, according to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator.
A final vote on the new rules by member states is scheduled for April 27. French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier has written to the commission to relay the wine industry's concern about the plans.
"The E.U. is exactly right that wineries do need to experiment to be able to compete," said Bieler. "What's ridiculous though, is that adding red and white to make a rosé, is essentially a non-issue in the grand scheme of things. The E.U. should be focusing on much more important issues."
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