Monday, June 6, 2011

Review of the UC Davis School of Law EU Wine Labeling Laws Conference

The European Union (EU) announced changes to its wine labeling laws in 2007 and began implementation on August 1, 2009.  The objectives of the new laws are : "To make EU wine producers even more competitive by enhancing the reputation of European wines and regaining market share both in the EU and outside; to make the market-management rules simpler, clearer, and more effective; to achieve a better balance between supply and demand; and to preserve the best traditions of European wine growing and boosting its social and environmental role in rural areas" (EU Regulations,, August 21, 2009).  In that the EU is one of the world's largest wine consuming blocs, implementation of these laws will not only affect consumers and producers within its borders; it will also have implications for non-EU producers selling into the region.

It was within this context that the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) School of Law convened a conference of government regulators, lawyers, and academics from the EU and US to explore opportunities for congruency in wine labeling laws.  The conference, titled Towards a Common Standard: New European Union Label Laws and Geographic Indicators of Origin, was held at the School of Law on the UC Davis campus from June 2-4.

Conference registration, and an accompanying lunch, was scheduled for the period immediately preceding the start of the conference. Both activities were temporarily halted by an evacuation of the building prompted by an ear-splitting fire alarm. After fire officials gave the all-clear, registration and lunch continued as scheduled.

The conference design provided ample opportunities for identification and debate of the issues facing the participants but also provided social settings wherein participants could "break bread" after the rigor of the debates.

The conference presentations were organized into four moderated sessions: EU Labeling Changes, Export Competitiveness, Governments and Control of Fraud, and Looking to the Future: Making Wine Laws Compatible.  The list of presenters was fairly balanced, with eight from Europe and six from the US.  Within the European team there was some imbalance in that five of the presenters were from Italy.  Further, given the importance of France to the world of wine, I was surprised that there were no French participants on the European team.

The conference kicked off with welcoming statements by Kevin Johnson, Dean of the UC Davis School of Law and Beth Greenwood, Associate Dean, Center for International Education, UC Davis Extension and Executive Director, International Programs, UC Davis School of Law.

Over the course of the following one and one-half days, attendees were treated to substantive presentations and spirited debate on issues of significant relevance but different answers depending on perspective.  The EU participants, faced with precipitous declines in internal wine consumption and intense competition from new world wines, see implementation of these laws as integral to retention of tradition and improving competitiveness of an industry under attack.  The Americans view the EU initiative as anti-competitive, forcing an EU approach beyond its borders, and as unhelpful vis a vis attempts to align international trade regimes.  In the final session, Dr. Felix Bloch of the EU stated that while the EU and US remain far apart in their positions regarding wine laws compatibility, they have moved closer and that he was looking to the future with optimism.

Conference organizers provided attendees with two educational opportunities: (i) a tour of the Department of Viticulture and Enology Sustainable Winery on the UC Davis grounds;

and (ii) travel to Napa for a tour of the Opus One vineyards and winery.

Both of these tours were optional but with an additional charge for the Opus One tour.  Both events were well attended.

All in all the UC Davis School of Law should be very pleased with both the construct and conduct of this conference.  It was the first time that the school had convened a conference on this topic and, in my opinion, it was close to a virtuoso performance.  James Lapsley of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, and Whitney Denning had, respectively, technical and administrative responsibility for the event and both did an excellent job.  James, in addition to coordinating the speakers, moderated two sessions and accompanied us on all tours and ensured completeness of presentation by "tour guides" by prompting with pointed questions. Whitney was ever present with a broad smile and helpful suggestions and her on-site coordination and partner management was flawless.  I was a little mystified by a change in the conference pricing schema (a la carte versus fixed price) without an attendant explanation and the purpose of Session 2 within the framework of the broader program but these were minor blips in an otherwise well-executed program.

I will cover the conference material, positions, and debates in future posts.


  1. This is a great recount of the conference. Thank you for providing it; I wish I could have been in attendance!

  2. Thank you very much for your kind words Lindsey. I am sure that the conference would have been even richer with your participation.