In a story reminiscent of the legal action taken by French wine producers against use of the word “Champagne”, Spreyton vineyard Emilia Wines has been forced to rebrand after coming up against the pointy end of the law.
Marcus and Gail Burns named their North-West Tasmanian property Emilia, referencing the wine region Emilia-Romagna that they fell in love with while living in Italy.
Now that region has spurned its Tasmanian namesake and threatened legal action if the Burns do not stop using the name “Emilia”.
“We built our house here 15 years ago in the style that was typical of a house in Emilia [Italy], and called our property Emilia,” Mr Burns said.
“Ten years ago we put our first wines in and it was natural for us to call [the wine brand] Emilia. We became Emilia Wines when we released our first labels,” he said.
After receiving the legal threat from a consortium of Emilia-Romagna winemakers via a Melbourne solicitor, the Burns agreed to stop using the name and will rebrand to “La Villa”.
The solicitor gave the Burns until February 1, 2018, to stop using “Emilia”, however they have already started the process, with their first La Villa sparkling blanc de blanc to be released just before Christmas.
“They originally suggested we were downgrading the quality of [wine from] Emilia by using the name,” Mr Burns said.
“We had hoped to trade through [with the Emilia name] until the end of summer, but they came back with February 1 and that’s the date we’re working towards,” he said.
While he cannot put a figure on the cost yet, Mr Burns said it has been a very expensive exercise as they have to change wine labels, signage, branding, their website and business name.
“The name is a bit generic, but the new name and branding sits well visually. We still love the connection with Emilia,” he said.
Wine Australia general counsel Rachel Triggs said the Emilia Wines situation was unusual, but came about through the Burns unwittingly breaching the bilateral agreement Australia has had with the European Union since 1994.
The agreement protects both European and Australian wine geographical indications and wine terms.
“The bilateral agreement protects European regions like Champagne, Beaujolais and Bourdeau. We agree to protect European geographical indications and they agree to protect Australian geographical indications,” Ms Triggs said.
“Australia did also get a number of derogations to wine laws, such as the use of malic acid in wine. If it wasn’t for the agreement Australian winemakers couldn’t sell wines with malic acid to the European region.
“It has a number of derogations that facilitate access to the market,” she said.
Ms Triggs said winemakers should do their own due diligence in researching trademarks, intellectual property and the Wine Australia Act when starting in business.
Wine Tasmania chief executive Sheralee Davies said the Burns’ situation was the first time she was aware of such a breach in Tasmania, but they had acted quickly to rectify the situation.
“They’ve been really proactive in communicating with customers,” Ms Davies said.
“That’s where you can utilise this as an opportunity to continue telling the story. That will stand them in good stead I hope,” she said.
Mr Burns is choosing to be philosophical about the situation and hopes their wine will speak for itself.
“The wine will still be the same,” he said.
“A couple of years and another vintage down the track nobody will notice.”