The best wines and foods in Europe, with the highest reputations, have long been protected in law. This means that you know what you are buying and what you expect to get in terms of taste and style. It is a guarantee of origin and quality if you like. The EU even has a set of terms and standards for it under the umbrella PDO (Protected designation of origin) scheme.
The French led the way on the labelling of these protected products and you’ll be familiar I’m sure with the term Appellation d’origins Controllée. There are nearly 500 AOC wine regions in France and a similar name of cheese AOCs too. In Italy they use the terms DOC and for the very best (think Barolo, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino etc) it is DOCG for their wines. Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar from Modena are also protected in the same way.
We are no strangers to this approach in the UK either. Stilton cheese, Cornish clotted cream, Jersey Royal potatoes, East Kent hops, Lakeland Hardwick sheep, Yorkshire forced rhubarb and many more products are protected under the PDO system. When it comes to wine we have a catch all PDO - English Wine - which was set up in 2011. In essence you need to make wine in England from grapes grown in England at under 220m above sea level and stick to a set of rules about adjustments to the grape juice. There is a similar PDO for Welsh wine.
Now a group of Sussex wine producers led by new kid on the block Mark Driver at Rathfi nny Estate (left) have been pushing for a Sussex Wine PDO for still and sparkling wines. This implies that there is a special distinctiveness in the wines made from grapes grown in Sussex compared to say Kent or Hampshire. Participating producers (there are about 70 in Sussex currently) will have to pay a levy if they want to label their wines as Sussex Wine rather than English Wine, and conform to stricter analytical standards than the English Wine PDO – SO2 levels and Volatile acidity to name just two. Quality assessment would be more rigorous and there is concern about how to police this and what to do with failed wines.
Another dimension is that some of the bigger producers source grapes from outside the county for their contract winemaking. These wines could not be labelled as Sussex Wine under the new PDO.
Ultimately there would be a cost to pass on to the consumer. Are you ready to pay an extra few pounds a bottle to drink a wine labelled as Sussex Wine rather than English Wine?
The UK government and the South East Vineyards Association are both backing the idea and Defra formally applied to the EU last month for the Sussex PDO. It will take at least six months but maybe a year or more to hear. Watch this space as they say.
Sussex Wine School runs regular wine tastings and courses inc WSET courses at Hotel du Vin Brighton. Find out more at www.sussexwineschool.com