EU-U.S. Wine Deal Criticized

D'Arcy Barrett, a saleswoman with Premier Cru wine store in Emeryville, California, in the U.S., holds French wines, Dom Perignon champagne, left, and Chablis Grand Cru, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005.
European lawmakers proclaimed winemaking the essence of their culture and recalled the pre-Roman drinking heritage as they criticized a provisional deal with Washington that would increase U.S. imports into a glutted European market.

In an intense debate rife with anti-American clichés about McDonald's and Coca Cola, European Union parliamentarians showed their opposition to a deal signed two weeks ago that aimed to settle a 20-year-old dispute over rules on winemaking and labeling.

Christa Klass of the European People's Party, the assembly's largest group, condemned the interim agreement as unacceptable and said the import conditions for U.S. wine were far too lenient. Several lawmakers joined the EPP in calling for tougher action.

The deal still has to be approved by the 25 EU member states, and with a European wine industry in an overproduction crisis, it could run into more opposition over the coming months.

The EU farmers' organization COPA-COGECA joined the opposition Tuesday, saying the "oenological practices applied in the United States pose a fundamental problem as far as the very definition of wine is concerned." Europeans specifically object to the possibility of adding up to 7 percent water to wine and using wood chips to get that popular oaky, smoked vanilla flavor.

"Water in wine is something which is unimaginable for us and unacceptable to our consumers," said Klass, who represents the German Riesling-producing Mosel region. "We don't need artificial wine."

She said the deal sent a bad message to farmers across Europe as they were fanning out into their vineyards for the fall harvest. "They feel they have been sold off," she said.

Jean-Claude Martinez, right-wing Front Nationale lawmaker from France's Languedoc-Roussillion, said his electorate would not stand for it.

"Our winemakers will revolt against this, and they will have everyone in the south of France on the barricades," Martinez said.