The Italian Job - Winery forced to rebrand: geographical indicators and traditional expressions

Tasmanian wine producer Emilia Wines recently came under fire from an irate group of Italian winemakers.  Following significant legal pressure over its use of a protected geographical indicator, Emilia Wines was forced to rebrand.

Gail and Marcus Burns, the owners of Emilia Wines, fell in love with the Italian wine region of Emilia-Romagna.  They decided to replicate the look and feel of the region in their Tasmanian winery. 

Winemakers from the Emilia-Romagna region caught wind of Emilia Wines and took legal action, claiming that use of the word “Emilia” by a Tasmanian winery was in breach of an agreement between Australia and the European Union in relation to the trade of wine (the Agreement).  It was claimed that as “Emilia” is synonymous with table wine from the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, it was unlawful for Emilia Wines to use that phrase in the promotion of its wine. 

Australia’s obligations under the Agreement are codified in the Wine Australia Act 2013 (Cth) (Act).

The Act prescribes a system whereby specific “geographical indicators” and “traditional expressions” are protected from misuse.  “Champagne” is the best known geographical indicator.  Only wines originating from the French region of Champagne can label themselves as such. 

“Traditional expressions”, relate to traditionally used names referring, in particular, to a method of production or to the quality, colour, or type of wine (e.g. a Spanish Crianza). 

The protected “geographical indicators” and “traditional expressions” are recorded on a public register, administered by Wine Australia (the registered Authority).

The Act stipulates that it is an offence for a person to sell, export, or import wine with a false description and presentation.  “Description” and “presentation” includes registered geographical indicators and traditional expressions. 

As Emilia Wines' misuse was clear, rather than fight, the difficult decision was made to rebrand.  “Emilia Wines” will soon be known as “La Villa”.

Lavan Comment

Wine is a multi-billion dollar global industry.  Terms indicating geography and tradition are highly prized.  Where reputations are built around regions and styles, those who benefit will fight hard to preserve exclusivity.

When devising a brand for a wine business, you must turn your mind to the registered (and protected) geographical indicators and traditional expressions.  Should you fail to complete your due diligence, you face costly legal proceedings and the prospect of a rebrand.

In an industry where goodwill and reputation is critical, a rebrand may have catastrophic consequences.  It is vital that winemakers have a firm understanding of the Act, and any defences one may call upon.

Unfortunately for Emilia Wines, its love of its namesake was its undoing; well, that’s amore.

If you require assistance on your compliance with the Act, or wish to enforce your rights under the Act, do not hesitate to contact Iain Freeman or Cinzia Donald.

Disclaimer – the information contained in this publication does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice in relation to any particular matter you may have before relying or acting on this information. The Lavan team are here to assist.