The future of South Africa’s right to label wines made from its most famous grape as Pinotage is in jeopardy after the European Union’s Agricultural Committee decided to uphold an appeal by a French farmer in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in Southern France who claims the rights to this name has been held by his family since 1688.
Jerome Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës, a grape grower outside La Motte D’Aigues near Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, farms on an eleven hectare spread registered as Les Pinotage. Although the 12th generation farmer has been following in the footsteps of his ancestors by growing Grenache, Tannat and Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre grapes for the local co-op, he began making his own wine last year and plans to put it on the market,in 2012,as an AOC registered wine named Domaine Les Pinotage.
“It was with concern that I find some other Pinotage being used on a label from South Africa,” says Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës, whose maiden vintage realised 12 000 bottles of Les Pinotage red blend. “I wrote a polite letter to these South Africans, who told me they had been making wine called Pinotage since 1959, the first in the world.”
Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës, however, produced a deed of transfer dated 27 August 1688 stamped by the Commissioner d’Agricole of La Motte D’Aigues verifying that his forefather Sebastien took ownership of a tract of land called “Les Pinotage”.
“It is thus obvious that the rights to this name lies with the Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës family,” he says. “With the new opportunities for French wine in the Chinese market, more and more French grape growers have decided to produce our own wines. And it is only our right to use the original names of our farms. If it happens to clash with the name of some other wine in some lesser-known country, this is too bad for the other place. The right belongs to us.”
In an,attempt to prevent the South African wine industry from continuing to use “Pinotage” on its labelling, Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës approached the EU Agricultural Committee who reported the Frenchman’s claim to the South African embassy in Brussels. Upon being informed that Pinotage was a grape variety created in South Africa by crossing Pinot Noir with Hermitage, the EU wrote to Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës stating that it could not disallow the use of a certified grape cultivar on any wine labels entering Europe.
“Place comes before grape variety, and this is what I instructed my lawyers to tell the EU,” says Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës. “If you talk of a white Burgundy, it is Chardonnay, and red Burgundy Pinot Noir, but always the place before the grape cultivar. In this context Domaine Les Pinotage refers to my place, where we have been growing vines for five centuries.”
The EU upheld Cellar?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës appeal, confirming that in the context of wine, origin is more important than grape cultivar, which makes Les Pinotage the original maker of any wine carrying this wine. South Africa has until 2013 to remove all wines with Pinotage on the label. A spokesperson for Pinotage SA said the matter was extremely sensitive and that it was not yet ready for comment.
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