Wine labelling leaves sour taste
The labelling of Marsovin's new range of foreign wines has left a sour taste with its competitors, who feel the images of national landmarks mislead the consumer into believing it is local produce.
Camilleri Wines and Delicata were disappointed by Marsovin's move, especially since the three producers were working closely to raise the standard and quality of Maltese wines.
Three wines on Marsovin's range called Citadella and La Torre portray imagery of the Cittadella in Gozo, the Santa Marija Tower in Comino and the Xlendi Tower in Gozo on the front label.
On the back label, in smaller print, are the words Produce of Italy or, depending on the grape variety, produce of France or Spain, and bottled by Marsovin, and by Anthony Cassar & Sons (part of the Marsovin Group) in the case of the Citadella wine.
What Marsovin is doing, however, is still above board because the situation is about to change with the amendment of Legal Notice 190 of 2006 on the DOK (Denominazzjoni ta' Oriġini Kontrollata) certification, which will come into force for the 2009 wine production.
Without singling out any wine producer, Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino recently said that over the last year, a number of foreign wines bottled in Malta, especially Italian and Spanish ones, had appeared on the local market.
"The pictorials on the labels, with pictures of Maltese locations, give the impression that the wine is Maltese. The amendments to the law will regularise this," he said.
Claudio Camilleri, head of sales and marketing at Camilleri Wines, was disturbed by this "deceptive labelling".
"I don't want this to come across as a case of sour grapes because it's not. We are seriously concerned at the way Marsovin is abusing of our heritage, by using national landmarks on the front that mislead both tourists and Maltese into assuming it's a Maltese wine," Mr Camilleri said.
"It would be perfectly fine if they had used Italian towers, or landmarks from other countries, but this is deceiving the consumer, from both a taste and label point of view.
"A Chardonnay from Venice tastes completely different from one grown in Malta," he added.
Mr Camilleri admitted that before EU membership, the market was flooded with Maltese wines produced with grapes from other countries, but they could not put the vintage and grape variety on the label; it was merely sold as table wine.
When the levy on foreign wines was removed in 2004, making them much cheaper, the market was bombarded with both good and bad foreign wines.
All of sudden, Maltese producers realised that they should either change their situation or drown in the free-flowing cheap plonk.
"We all had to get our act together and focus on producing a quality product. Farmers were also encouraged to tap EU funds to grow Maltese grapes, which helped us achieve our goals," he said.
Mr Camilleri said the producers all began working to obtain the DOK and the IGT (Indikazzjoni Ġeografika Tipika) standards of quality for their wines.
"As producers we were also finally working together and it was a historic moment when Delicata, Camilleri Wines and Marsovin shared a stand under the Malta brand at the London Wine Fair in June, so this move by Marsovin was unexpected," he said.
Mr Camilleri feels Marsovin's move goes against the core principles of this joint effort to promote entirely Maltese wine, at a time when Maltese wineries have started to form a common front to promote Maltese wines.
"Maltese wine is finally getting there, but the industry does not have a second chance. We should be so proud of what we have and produce. Why should we use Maltese imagery to promote Italian wine?" he asked.
George Delicata, managing director of Delicata Wines, also feels Marsovin's labelling gives consumers the wrong impression.
"Gone are the days when we used to do this. We are working hard to improve the standards of Maltese wines.
"The competition is frenetic and we cannot afford to chip away at our credibility by doing something like this. We need to go beyond this kind of labelling," Mr Delicata said.
Marsovin has defended its position and is surprised that its competitors are irked by the situation.
"Our labels are all in line with EU law and Maltese wine labelling regulations. We don't feel the labelling is misleading and on the back it is clearly indicated that the wine is the product of an EU country," said Jeremy Cassar, Marsovin director.
He also pointed out that the names of the wines are not even Maltese - La Torre is Italian and Citadella has been spelt differently.
Mr Cassar is indignant that his competitors feel the way they do because Marsovin, he says, has been the leader in pushing for the DOK labelling and quality standards.
He also stressed that by next year, the La Torre range will be completely produced with Maltese grapes, and Citadella will follow suit.
"There were not enough grapes to be able to produce this variety, but we have taken on new contracts with farmers, which should change the situation," he said.
"I guess the bone of contention is because the new wines are doing well."