Geographical indications register now open for wines and spirits

Rosie Clark

In my last article I wrote about cheese. In this article I am shifting my focus to one of cheese’s good friends, wine. In the wine industry considerable importance is placed on where a wine is produced. We are all familiar with “Champagne” and the fact that local producers cannot call their sparkling wine “champagne” because their products have not been produced in the Champagne region in France. Likewise, we would balk at wine grown and produced in Australia being sold under the name “Central Otago Pinot Noir”.

At the end of July the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act 2006 came into force. The Act describes a geographical indication (GI) as “an indication that identifies a wine or spirt as originating in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, or reputation, or other characteristic, of the wine or spirit is essentially attributable to its geographical origin”.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPONZ) is now accepting applications for GIs and is maintaining a register of GIs. Any “interested party” can apply to register a GI, including a wine or spirits producer, trader or an association of producers or traders. Once a GI is registered anyone wanting to use that GI to market the products will need to comply with certain provisions governing the use of that GI. This will provide consumers with certainty that a product is authentic and has specific characteristics due to its origin, and will provide producers with an ability to protect and associate themselves with particular regions.

For example, in order to use a New Zealand GI in relation to wine, at least 85% of the wine must be obtained from grapes harvested in the place of geographical origin to which the GI relates, and the remainder of the wine (if any) must be obtained from grapes harvested in New Zealand.

The register divides GIs into two categories, New Zealand GIs and Overseas GIs. The Act declares that, the terms “New Zealand”, “North Island”, and “South Island” are “enduring” GIs which means that those terms will be treated as GIs indefinitely.

While GIs have some similarities with trade marks, in that they are both used to identify the source of a product, there is a key difference. A GI identifies a product as having certain characteristics linked to the particular location they come from. Whereas a trade mark identifies a product as having come from a particular owner. It follows that no one person owns a GI. Any person who complies with the provisions governing the use of a GI may use it.

Applying for a GI will require considerable effort. An application must be accompanied by an explanation of the quality, reputation or other characteristic that is attributable to the relevant area, together with supporting evidence and where there is a relevant national or regional industry organisation, a statement in support of the application. IPONZ will be interested in matters such as the geographical features in a particular area, the soil composition and climate (to name a few).

IPONZ recommend that if you are considering applying for a GI that you get in touch with your industry body first as this will streamline the process. Given the time and costs involved (there is a non refundable application fee of $5,000) I expect that industry bodies themselves will drive efforts to register GIs on behalf of their members.