DOCG and DOC Going Away? Not Anytime Soon

By Jack Brostrom
May 28, 2014
Posted May 28, 2014

Under the new European Union wine law that went into effect in 2008, DOC and DOCG were technically lumped together in the new quality wine designation of DOP (PDO in English). Everyone studying for a wine test breathed a sigh of relief, because they wouldn’t have to memorize the growing list of DOCGs anymore—all the regions would be equal as DOPs from now on. And yet . . . today wines are still being labeled as DOC and DOCG, and the list of DOCGs not only still exists but also is likely to be increased again. What happened?

Federdoc logoThe short answer is, apparently, nothing. Control over the approval process moved from national governments to the EU central government, but it turns out that the 2008 law did not actually ban traditional terms like DOCG, so in Italy it’s business as usual in the labeling realm. To get some perspective on this, Italian Wine Central recently interviewed Cristiana Tirabovi, the executive director of Federdoc (the Confederazione Nazionale dei Consorzi Volontari per la Tutela delle Denominazioni dei Vini Italiani), about the future of the DOC and DOCG designations.

Tirabovi confirms that the DOC and DOCG designations not only are still valid but are actually preferred in Italy over DOP. An EU mandate to switch probably won’t be revisited again until at least 2020. Basically, Italy has too much invested in the DOCG-DOC difference to let it fade away, and none of the other EU governments are too anxious to give up the right to use their traditional terms, either. However, Tirabovi notes that there are no applications currently on file for new DOCs or DOCGs other than the proposed Nizza DOCG in Piemonte.

Below is the translation of the Italian Wine Central interview with Tirabovi.

Q: First of all, please tell us what Federdoc is and what role it plays between the Italian wine industry and the government.
A: Federdoc is the interprofessional organization for wine denominations of origin in Italy, the table around which representatives of the agricultural, industrial, cooperative, and sales segments of the Italian wine trade come together to discuss and find solutions to the various problems inherent in the sector. Its purpose is to ensure the protection, value enhancement, improvement of production, and image of Italian wines of origin, both through direct engagement with the national, EU, and international institutions and through services and assistance to the member consorzi [consortia], directing them in their activities of representation and protection of the interests of their respective denominations.

Q: Who are the members of Federdoc?
A: Federation members are consortia for the protection of wines with denomination of origin and/or geographical indication, as established under Italian and EU standards. They represent three categories of the wine industry: growers, vintners, and bottlers. The consorzi that belong to Federdoc include the most important denominations of Italian wines, with about 90% of domestic production at the DOC/G level.

Q: When the Common Market Organization (CMO) for Wine was first announced in 2007, our understanding in the States was that it meant the end of DOCs and DOCGs in Italy, along with all other national systems that had two levels of protected designations of origin. We expected that within a few years the terms DOC and DOCG would be gone from wine labels, replaced by DOP. But in 2014, there seems to be little change in the labeling terms. Why are wines still being labeled DOC and DOCG instead of DOP?
A: With EC Regulation no. 479 of 2008, the EU sought to equate somehow the system of DOP wines with that of European agribusiness (olive oil, fruits, meats, processed products, cheeses, etc.), while of course recognizing the unique characteristics of the wine industry. Under that law, wine producers could—and still can—label their denomination using either the term DOP or IGP or the old traditional terms for the different countries of origin—for Italy, DOCG, DOC, or IGT—or combining both the European and traditional Italian terms.
Of course, it was not a simple matter to give up a product distinction formed on the basis of a quality pyramid that, in Italy, sees DOCG wines as higher than DOC wines, considering the added value given to the DOCGs through costly promotion. The French themselves have not deemed it necessary to give up their national AOC designation. The problem for Italy is communicating the difference between DOCG and DOC products in wine-consuming countries around the world.

Q: What percentage of DOP wines would you estimate are currently using “protetta” instead of “controllata” on their labels?
A: It’s impossible to estimate, since the choice is up to the discretion and convenience of the thousands of winemaking companies. However, most producers have remained faithful to the use of the traditional Italian expressions, having based their ad campaigns and promotions on those terms in the past. And of course, there is no other choice for producers looking to differentiate their DOCGs from DOCs: showing only “DOP” on the label would mean in practice denying them the DOCG designation of a superior product compared to DOC.

Q: Is the term IGP being adopted by more producers in place of IGT?
A: For the wines of this category, the choice is simplified, since there is no need for a distinction in the labeling between two different types. IGP corresponds exactly to IGT, while in the DOPs, as we have said, there is a need to distinguish DOCG wines from those at the DOC level. It is easy, therefore, to assume that the use of the term IGT would be reduced considerably.

Q: Is there a time limit on how long producers can continue to use the traditional terms IGT, DOC, and DOCG on their wine labels, or is their use permitted indefinitely?
A: The ability to choose is permitted indefinitely.

Q: Do you think most producers will voluntarily change to DOP in a few years, or will most of them continue to use the traditional terms until they are forced to change?
A: Producers have been using this system since 2008, and since then very few, for the reasons already cited, have felt the need to change the way they label denominations. New legislation (EC Regulation no. 1308/2013) has recently confirmed this situation; one can assume that, at least until the end of the new Common Agriculture Policy in 2020, nothing will change, and indeed no European wine-producing country feels the need for it.

Q: How has the process of creating a new denomination or amending the rules of an existing denomination changed under the new system?
A: In 2008, the wine system was reshaped to parallel the European agroalimentary DOP system, including the rules of recognition, and therefore the recognition and protection of a wine region is possible only at the European level, after an initial investigation carried out at the national level. The same procedure applies for modifying the disciplinari [legal specifications] of the denominations, except for minor changes that do not form part of the fascicolo [technical dossier] that every single DOP and IGP must have. It should be noted that each DOP/IGP has its own disciplinare of production that is sent to Brussels after the preliminary approval at national level, together with a fascicolo containing the essential elements of the denomination. The elements contained in this fascicolo cannot be modified with a simple procedure by the country alone.

Q: In the past year, we have seen Nizza get its first approvals for becoming a DOCG separate from Barbera d’Asti, and Sassicaia became an official DOC separate from Bolgheri, so we know it is still possible for new DOCs and DOCGs to be created. But those were existing denominations. If an IGP or some other area were to apply to become a brand-new denomination, would it become a DOC, or would it be required to use DOP on its labels?
A: The geographic term Nizza is at this time reserved for the Barbera d’Asti DOCG, but the consorzio has made a request at the regional level for its transition to independent DOCG status. This is the first step required by the current procedures, after which the regional authorities will draft a formal request to the Ministry of Agriculture. The reason for this request, as properly initiated by the consorzio, is to ensure for a higher-quality wine made ​​only from Barbera an adequate reputation—a DOCG, in fact—with all due safeguards for consumers. Sassicaia has become an autonomous DOC at the express request of the EU, being a wine obtained from a zone distinct from the Bolgheri DOC.
It is always possible to request the protection of a new DOP or IGP, or the promotion of a DOC to DOCG, subject to precise and very strict rules. The process of recognition ends when the EU grants Community protection by entering the new denomination in the E-Bacchus register. At that point, a producer is able to use the term DOP or DOCG, for example, or both, and the producer must label the wine as a DOCG, if this is required by the disciplinare.

Q: Are you aware of any areas besides Nizza that are close to becoming new denominations?
A: At the moment, there are no other applications for protection at the ministry, nor any requests for promotion from IGT to DOC or DOC to DOCG. The only files open at this time at the Committee of DOP and IGP Wines (an advisory body of the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of discussing these matters, which currently includes two representatives of Federdoc) relate to the modification of the disciplinari of certain existing DOPs to adapt to market demands or to make the specifications more stringent, with even stricter rules for production, labeling, or product packaging (e.g., an obligation to use only corks for DOCGs).

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