Brussels, Germany Fight over Apple Wine

A proposal to define wine as a "product from grapes" upsets countries that produce the beverage from berries and other fruits

The European Commission on Monday sought to play down German fears that its regional apple wines will lose their right to be called "wine" under new Brussels legislation.

Plans by EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel for a sweeping reform of the European wine industry, designed to boost the sector's competitiveness on the global market, include a new definition of what "wine" actually is.

According to the commission proposal, tabled in July and currently under discussion by EU member states, Europe's wine definition should be brought in line with rules by the International Wine Organization.

These rules state that wine is a "product from grapes" -- excluding wines made from other fruits such as apples and berries.

Ms Fischer Boel's proposals last week sparked outrage from German politicians, particularly from the region of Hessen which is famous for its 'Äppelwoi' (apple wine) -- a cider-like drink.

Hessen's prime minister Roland Koch said he was "outraged" by the Brussels-proposed narrow definition of wine, according to German media.

"It disregards German and Hessen tradition," he said referring to "centuries-old" apple wine making in his region. "We will not allow our traditional definition to be sacrificed to regulatory madness in Brussels."

Faced with media questions, the commission on Monday appeared to backtrack from its proposals, with Ms Fischer Boel's spokesman saying that "a number of countries, including Germany but also countries from Eastern Europe and the North of Europe have pointed out their concerns for their fruit and berry wines."

"We are fully aware of the issue and fully aware of the importance of the issue," he stated, adding "We will do everything we can to come to a compromise which is acceptable to everyone and is pragmatic."

The Hessen government however on Monday reacted by saying a mere compromise is not enough, with a spokesman stating "This is about continuing long-time rules which have not hurt anybody," according to DPA.

It is not the first time that the EU squabbles over definitions of alcoholic beverages.

The bloc last year saw a name dispute over vodka -- dubbed Europe's "vodka war" -- between the bloc's vodka producing countries.

The discussions pitted member states producing vodka with traditional ingredients -- potatoes and cereals -- against member states using other methods in their vodka, such as sugar beet and grapes.

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