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Wineyard, wine labelling and domain brand: legal precedents provideimportant clarifications

10 February 2024

Two recent rulings have shed useful clarification on the definition of a winegrowing business and the
terms that may be used on the labels of wines. Firstly, the Court of Justice of the European Union European Union (CJEU) which, in a “Weingut” ruling of 23 November 2023, ruled that a winegrower may indicate on the label of his wine the name of his vineyard, even if the pressing takes place on the premises of another of another winegrower.

The concept of “wineyard” is not limited to land owned by the winegrower.

A German winegrower used the terms “Weingut” (winegrowing domain) and “Gutsabfüllung” (bottled in
the domain) for a wine produced from grapes from vineyards rented 70 km from his own farm. The rented vineyards were cultivated by their owner according to the winemaker’s instructions. A pressing facility was rented for 24 hours to process the grapes, according to the winegrower’s own oenological practices, who then transported the resulting wine to his vineyard.

The Land of Rhineland-Palatinate considers that the winegrower is not entitled to use the aforementioned terms, in particular the name of his vineyard, for wine made on the premises of the other winegrower. EU law does in fact require that the wine be made exclusively from grapes harvested in the vineyards cultivated by this vineyard and that the vinification be carried out entirely on the said vineyard; this is the situation we are familiar with in France with our well-known so-called “marques domaniales” (domain brands).

When the German Federal Administrative Court was seized of the case, it referred the matter to the Court of Justice, which observed firstly that, under EU law, the terms in question are reserved for wines with a PDO (protected designation of origin) or PGI (protected geographical indication). It must therefore first be ascertained whether the vineyards rented 70 km from the winery are also covered by the same PDO or
PGI. The Court also noted that the concept of ” vineyard ” is not limited solely to land owned by the winegrower. It can be extended, and this is the importance of this decision, to rented vineyards located elsewhere, provided that the winegrower assumes the actual management, close and permanent control
and responsibility for the work of growing and harvesting the grapes.

Pressing in a press rented for a short time

If the same conditions are met for pressing in a press rented for a short period from another vineyard, and provided that this press is made available exclusively to the eponymous vineyard, the vinification can be considered to have been carried out entirely in the latter. Very recently, it was the French State Council which, in its ruling of 18 January 2024, put an end to a full-blown legal saga that began almost 9 years ago on this issue, which is a frequent one in practice, regarding the definition of a winegrowing business resulting from the ” merger of several vineyards ” within the meaning of the Decree of 4 May 2012 on the labelling and traceability of winegrowing products, and the use of two or more domain brands (regulated terms such as “château”, “domaine”, “bastide”, “clos”, etc.) by a single vineyard.

Case study: in some cases, the same vineyard can use two different châteaux brands

SCEA Château Reillanne, a vineyard producing Côtes-de-Provence appellation wines under the Château
Reillanne domain brand, bought the neighboring property producing wines under the Château Marouine
domain brand in the same appellation. It continues to sell wines under the Château Marouine brand alongside its Château Reillanne wines, even though this estate no longer exists, having been merged with SCEA Château Reillanne.

In principle, it is forbidden to use two different state-owned brands (“château”, “domaine”, “bastide”, etc.) for wines from a single vineyard, when there is only one winery (with the well-known exception of the cooperative cellar, a sort of extension of the château). In 2015, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regional directorate for business, competition, consumer affairs, labor and employment (Direccte) ordered Château Reillanne to change the labelling on its bottles by removing the reference to Château Marouine.

The case was heard by the Toulon Administrative Court, the Marseille Administrative Court of Appeal, the
State Council, the Marseille Court of Appeal again and then the State Council one more time, which gave
a final ruling on the second appeal. The ruling is important because it provides useful practical clarification of Article 8 of the aforementioned decree, known as the “labelling decree”, on which Château Reillanne relied: it confirms that, following the acquisition of one vineyard by another – both of which, prior to the acquisition, met the definition of a vineyard in the aforementioned decree – the resulting new single vineyard may continue to label two different wines under the two different domain brands without it being necessary for the buildings and equipment of the former vineyard to have been taken over, provided that the provisions of article 6 of the labelling decree (definition of a vineyard) are complied with.

In this case, given that Château Reillanne vinifies the grapes from the former Château Marouine separately, the State Council confirms that it is lawful to continue to use this second domain brand, which will undoubtedly have important practical consequences, just like the Weingut ruling, which allows a wine to be labelled under the domain brand of the vineyard even if not all the grapes have been pressed there.

Guillaume Marchais

I, David Supersac, professional translator, Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL number 69603), hereby certify that I have translated this document into English from the original source document in French, and that this translation is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge. For and in collaboration with 001 Translations, 5th February, 2024. Translation Reference # 24-0502-01

Professional translator – Certified Translation

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