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Don't Burst Our Bubble: Aussies Fight To Keep Prosecco Naming Rights

Australia's first prosecco producer says it would be "disastrous" if the European Union succeeded in its bid to follow Champagne's footsteps by copyrighting the wine.

French champagne has long enjoyed protective naming rights, with only wines made from grapes grown and harvested in Champagne bearing the champagne name.

The EU wants to follow suit, by claiming the increasingly popular prosecco as theirs, which would force Aussie producers to change their labels.

Local winemakers are holding firm on their position and want the Australian government to go into bat for them -- given they've been making the wine longer than Italy's recently named Prosecco region emerged.

Michael Dal Zotto and his father. IMAGE: supplied

"You can't even make the comparison to Champagne, we have been making prosecco for 20 years, and they only named the region that about 10 years ago. So it just doesn't compare," Michael Dal Zotto told 10 daily.

A geographical indication, or ‘GI’, identifies goods from a specific region, such as champagne.

“Prosecco is part of our family history -- I learned the art of making prosecco from my father, and he learned it from his father, so we’re really proud of our heritage,” he said.

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The issue is causing a standoff in Australia and the EU's $100 billion trade agreement.

The EU is demanding that Australian wine producers be prohibited from marketing wine labelled Prosecco in Australia, as a condition of its entry into a bilateral trade agreement.

There are fears this decision will impact the naming rights of other Italian-French inspired products, like feta and parmesan.

"It would be disastrous. I mean just think about it, more than 70 percent of our business [is prosecco]. What would happen to us and winemakers like us?" Dal Zotto said.

In Italy, prosecco making dates back to documentation from the Roman Empire in  1382.

And in 2009, Italians changed the grape name from prosecco to glera and registered prosecco as (GI), in a bid to copyright the name.

In what could be seen as a boost to Europe's case, on Tuesday, UNESCO recognised the prosecco vine-growing hills as a World Heritage Site.

Italy's Prosecco Hills Received UNESCO Heritage Status. IMAGE: Getty Images
Prosecco's Growing Popularity 

Dal Zotto said prosecco is the fastest growing wine style in Australia.

The sale of prosecco in Australia generates about $100 million a year and is tipped to grow to $200 million by 2020.

Market research company IRI reported in 2018 prosecco sales by value nationwide have doubled in the past two years, compared with a nine percent rise for champagne.

Its cheaper cost -- at almost four times less per litre than champagne -- was a major factor, according to IRI.

“Prosecco looks set to drive sparkling wine growth for the foreseeable future,” IRI channel insights manager Daniel Bone said.

“It really hits the sweet spot from a price and value perspective; people feel they are getting bang for their buck.

“It is being drunk as a more regular indulgence, whereas champagne is reserved for celebratory occasions.”

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Prosecco is an increasingly popular wine. IMAGE: Getty Images
How Long Will It Take To Resolve? 

Australia and the EU have had a wine agreement for more than two decades and negotiations into a free trade agreement have been underway for the last year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly wants a deal reached this year, but it's expected to take until 2021.

The findings from a Monash University study of more than 100 years of wine literature released in January found, "the EU's characterisation of the term is erroneous and is intended to operate to protect Italian Prosecco producers from international competition".

"We will consult with industry, we will hear their arguments and we certainly won't be trading anything away until we see the market access terms that the EU is offering us," Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told ABC television on Saturday.

Birmingham's office has been contacted for comment.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au