​Croatia and Italy's Ongoing Dispute Over Prošek and Prosecco Wines

​Croatia and Italy's Ongoing Dispute Over Prošek and Prosecco Wines

Posted by Emily on 5th Oct 2023

Croatia's renewed bid to obtain special EU recognition for its historic dessert wine, 'prošek', has reignited tensions with Italy, which perceives the name too close to its famed wine, Prosecco.

Prosecco (6893379613) Ed Schipul from Houston, TX, US, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This isn't the first instance of such a dispute. Back in 2013, Italy successfully halted Croatia's initial attempt to secure a trademark for prošek, citing the phonetic similarity between the two wine names.

Croatian winemakers concede there's a resemblance in sound, but emphasise that consumers can clearly differentiate between the products.

Wine producer Ivo Dubokovic from the Dalmatian island of Hvar commented on the shared heritage, pointing out that the capital of his island used to be Venice. He added, "99% of people, even English speakers, would discern they are distinct words."

Historically, prošek is believed to have a lineage extending over two millennia. In contrast, while Prosecco too boasts an ancient lineage, it was only in the 1930s that areas in north-eastern Italy, specifically Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, were demarcated as official Prosecco-producing regions.

Prosecco acquired its DOC (denomination of controlled origin) status in 2009, and the superior DOGC designation for a specific area in Veneto, implying that the label can only be adopted upon approval by the Treviso consortium of prosecco producers. Veneto's president, Luca Zaia, expressed his fervent stance on protecting Prosecco, deeming European endorsement of Croatia's move as 'scandalous'.

Coldiretti, Italy's principal farmers' union, interprets Croatia's move as a direct challenge to Italian products.

Prosecco, representing celebratory moments and enthusiasm, is arguably Italy's most renowned wine. The heart of the contention lies in Croatia's wish to market its premium dessert wine, prošek, throughout the EU. Prošek, primarily produced in Dalmatia, involves a traditional method of sun-drying white grapes on straw mats before pressing. Due to Italian objections, the wine has been labelled as 'Vino Dalmato' in the EU since 2013.

The European Commission's recent consideration of Croatia's application for prošek to achieve PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status has inflamed Italy. Prosecco has relished this status since 2009, buttressed by an Italian law from 1969. Many in Italy view the Commission's stance on prošek as "shameful".

Croatia highlights that prošek mirrors the nation's heritage, tracing back to pre-Roman eras. It's traditionally produced for familial occasions, often reserved for significant life events.

Confraternita di Valdobbiadene - wikiraduno Alle colline del prosecco abc2 Patafisik, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While prošek lacks the global brand image of Prosecco, the latter has seen its sales flourish, even amid pandemic disruptions. Prosecco's origins are deeply entrenched in north-eastern Italy, with the village of Prosecco lending the wine its name.

Acquisition of a PDO provides robust protection within the EU, guarding against potential consumer confusion regarding product origins. Italy is concerned that granting PDO to prošek might engender a cascade of "Italian-sounding" foreign products. Stefano Patuanelli, Italy's agriculture minister, and Paolo de Castro, an Italian MEP, both express such reservations.

The European Commission, however, believes two similar names can coexist without confusion. This forms Croatia's principal argument, accentuated by their wine's ancient roots.

Past rulings might favour Italy. Notably, in 2008, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decreed that German cheesemakers using 'parmesan' as a term infringed on Italy's 'parmigiano'. Also, a recent verdict by the same court concluded that a tapas chain using 'champanillo' insinuated a connection to French champagne.

Analogously, in 2005, an EU ruling on the tokaji dispute found that Italian winemakers from Friuli Venezia Giulia must avoid the name 'tocai' for their white wine, reducing confusion with a Hungarian dessert wine. Intriguingly, this region also produces Prosecco, thus a past ruling against Italian vintners might now ironically assist others.


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