The signing this week by Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith of the "Australia-European Community Agreement on Trade in Wine" with European Union Commissioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel finally concludes one of the silliest bits of diplomatic pressure ever applied by European nations.
Back in the early 1990s when Australia was a miniscule player in the world of wine the French got all high and mighty about protecting what they saw as geographical names which Australian producers were putting on labels in a generic fashion. Under the threat of having sales in Europe banned completely, Australia in 1994 was forced to accept that it could no longer use words like champagne and burgundy and hermitage. So began the disappearance of such established favourites as Houghton's and Lindemans White Burgundy and the introduction of varietal labelling with wines named after the grapes they were made from.
And, surprise, surprise, the consumers in Britain fell in love with the change as they discovered that an Australian shiraz was full of delightful fruit flavours and not at all like the tight and tired French Cote du Rhones they had previously been named after. As the graph of the country's wine exports shows, the start of the boom which sees Australia now the major player in the British market coincided with the labelling change.
This week's agreement signed by Messrs Smith and Fischer Boel now extends the list of names that Australia agrees not to use to cover fortifieds like port and sherry and tokay. When the local industry decides on its new descriptions there has to be every chance that the end result will be the same again.