The wine industry is characterised by a wide variety of producers, often very much linked to specific grapes, blends and terrains. The European Union has put in place a system of Geographical Indications (GIs), that are used to distinguish the origin of goods, often also linked to the quality and reputation of a specific product. In China, a large market for European wines, these GIs are as important, and once registered they are protected as trademarks. Nonetheless, as with trade marks, it is important to monitor the market for infringement of GIs and act against illegitimate users of your collective mark.
Wine has been classified by region for almost the entirety of its long and varied history, the Ancient Greeks stamped amphorae with the seal of the region they came from, and references to wine, identified by region are found throughout the Bible and other religious texts. Whilst this tradition of geographical identification continued throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, it was only in 1716, with the introduction of the Chianti region in Italy, protected by edict of the then Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Today, the concepts of appellation and terroir have spread around the world. France protects over 300 Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), and Italy over 400 Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines. With similar systems and numerous varieties are grown and protected throughout Europe and the rest of the world, appellation of origin plays an important role in the classification of wines, as well as consumer decision making. As a result, the protection of the integrity of this classification system is of paramount importance to producers, distributors, retailers, and of course, consumers.
Protection of the appellation of origin of a product falls to the legal principles associated with so called Geographical Indications (GIs). Similar to trade marks, GIs are distinctive signs used to distinguish the origin of goods, thereby enabling consumers to accurately associate a particular quality or reputation with the products in question.
GIs differ from trade marks however in that rather than protecting a single producer’s rights, they protect a whole class, based on their geographical location and the production methods used. GIs therefore ‘belong to all those resident producers who comply with the specific by-laws and regulations set to ensure that the consumer ‘link’ between the quality /reputation of a product and its place of origin is maintained.