I became aware of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia‘s (WFA) proposal to cut the minimum alcohol level in wine when I received a call from ABC radio to comment, in my standing as Visiting Research Fellow with the Wine Economics Research Centre and the Wine2030 Network of the University of Adelaide.
The information source was the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) website, the article entitled Call for comment on proposed change to minimum alcohol content in wine.
I had my own ideas about the reasoning and implications for this proposal but being a researcher, I wanted to check with key stakeholders including the WFA, Wine Australia, winemakers and marketers, so I spoke to all of these groups and came up with a consistent response.
Essentially, wine is defined as having at least 8% alcohol, so if a style is made in such a way that the alcohol falls below this level, then the winery is not permitted to call that product ‘wine’, since under current legislation, this is technically not a wine. It must be called something else, fermented grape juice, for example.
The main styles that would be affected by this change are not our standard wines, where there would not be an issue of alcohol falling below 8%. Rather, sweeter styles of wine such as moscato would be the main focus. It is not uncommon to see these wines have alcohol of less than 8%.
With the popularity – and seems to be growing popularity – of the lower alcohol wines and sweeter sparkling wines, it is not difficult to see why winemakers may want this flexibility in their labelling.
Furthermore, according to the FSANZ article, this change would simply bring Australia’s legislation in line with that of the European Union, which takes a large proportion of Australia’s wine exports. One more barrier removal can only be a good thing!
To the customer the only thing they might notice is that the labelling on their moscato is ‘wine’ – clarity in the wine aisle also has to be a good thing!
Rarely do I see a proposed change and not see a down side, but this time is the exception to prove the rule.