In Europe’s Wine Wars, Croatia Scores a Win

Wine bottles are seen in a wine shop in Paris last year. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

(CN) — Croatia scored a victory in Europe’s squabbles over wine labels when the European General Court on Wednesday rejected a move by Slovenia to stop Croatian winemakers from using the name “teran,” a wine variety known for its fruity taste and ruby red colors.

The dispute concerns traditional red wines made in a karst region along the northern coast of the Adriatic Sea that extends across northeastern Italy, Slovenia and a small part of Croatia on the Istria peninsula.

Winemakers across the region have long used the name teran – in Italy, it’s “terrano” – to describe grapes used in their wines and the ruling came as little surprise for many.

“Teran can lawfully originate in both Slovenian and Croatian Istria,” said Thomas Bickl, a German researcher at the Duisburg-Essen University studying conflict between former Yugoslav states, on Twitter about the ruling. “Little wonder, as the grape variety has been around for more than 600 years in the region.”

In Slovenia and Croatia, though, the ruling carries with it not just commercial importance but also emotional and political weight because the two neighboring Balkan nations are in a protracted dispute over land and maritime borders.

The dispute over the teran label goes back to when Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004, along with several other former Soviet bloc nations like Poland and the Czech Republic. After it was granted entry into the EU club, Slovenian winemakers were given exclusive rights to label wines they made in the karst region as teran and they obtained protected status.

But in 2013, Croatia joined the EU too and its winemakers, who had long used the name teran for wines made in Istria, said they wanted to continue labeling their wines as teran. Slovenia objected and refused to settle the matter in negotiations.

In the end, the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, decided in 2017 to allow Croatian winemakers to label their wines as teran provided they added that it was from Croatia’s Istria region to distinguish it from Slovenian teran.

Slovenia was not happy with the decision and took its case to the EU’s court system, arguing that Slovenian winemakers were being harmed and consumers misled by allowing Croatian producers to use the teran label.

In a blow, the European General Court, the EU’s second highest court, rejected those claims on Wednesday. The ruling, which was not immediately available in English, can be appealed to the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice.  

Delo, a Slovenian newspaper, said the Slovenian government was disappointed by the ruling and considering whether to appeal.

In a news release, the General Court said the European Commission’s decision to allow Croatian wines to be labeled as teran was an effort to allow both sides to “co-exist peacefully.”

The court said the commission was within its powers when it made an exception for Croatian winemakers and noted that Croatian wines were labeled teran even before Croatia joined the EU.

Marjan Colja, a Slovenian winemaker and president of the Civil Initiative for Respecting the Protection of Teran Wine, told the Delo newspaper that the ruling will hurt Slovenian winemakers.

He said Slovenia’s teran wine comes from only 450 hectares, making it a very special wine, and that Croatia’s teran wine country is much larger. He worried that small Slovenian growers may be seriously hurt if Croatian teran wines make it onto store shelves in Slovenia.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union. 

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