Cheers to Central Otago

Champagne. Côtes du Rhône. Chianti. Central Otago.

The Southern locality could be about to join the ranks of some of the most prestigious wine-making areas and standards in the world if its attempt to be registered as a formal wine region comes to fruition.

The Central Otago Winegrowers Association is set to lodge a geographical indications (GI) application under the amended Geographical Indications (Wines and Spirits) Registration Act, set to come into force at the end of next month.

This would designate Central Otago as a formal wine region, bringing not just increased national and global recognition, but important legal protection for the area, too.

It is an exciting development and no mean feat for the area’s young, yet burgeoning, industry.

An appellation designation, or designation of origin, is a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown and often includes the processes involved and standards required.

The tradition of wine appellation stretches back thousands of years. The first official legal protection, however, came in 1716 when Chianti, Italy, became the world’s first exclusive (protected) vineyard zone. The first wine classification system was adopted in Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary, in 1730 and a royal decree in 1757 established it as a closed production district. Portugal’s port wine was given  appellation control in 1756. The exclusive sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France came relatively late to the party, being granted legal protection in 1891.

Once granted, the designation of origin can appear on a wine bottle label. The branding offers huge sales and marketing opportunities of course, but also provides important protection when it comes to quality and reputation — of the wine and the area.

New Zealand’s geographical indications  legislation was enacted in 2006 after fears our country’s wine exports would be blocked from the EU market over labelling concerns, but delayed the following year

when discussions stalled.  However, as exports have increased, including to the Asian market, and the need to safeguard access to markets and our high-quality distinctive wines, there was increased pressure to implement the Act.

Under the Act, the GI designation would show that a wine or spirit comes from a specific region and possesses particular qualities or characteristics as a result.

In order for wineries to use the Central Otago GI designation, they will need to show 85% of the grapes used in the wine are grown in the area.

The exact Central Otago GI  area has to be defined — and the process could take many months. The winegrowers association application is for the whole area encompassed by  the boundaries of Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago district councils.

The legislation also allows for GI recognition applications for sub regions. Therefore, Wanaka or Bannockburn could also have labelled wines of origin in their own right.

The increased potential in the domestic, export and tourism markets is plain to see. It will be a waiting game until the geographic boundaries are defined and the designation is confirmed. Then, surely, it will be time to unscrew the pinot noir caps and drink a toast to the success of the region’s pioneering winemakers. Cheers, Central Otago! 

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