Friday, March 11, 2005

End of a tradition....

Vodka made from grapes? That's just fine

By Jeremy Smith

Yahoo Daily News 11 March 2005

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's vodka drinkers can rest easy knowing that EU law will allow them to buy their favourite tipple made from a bewildering array of farm produce like grapes and sugar cane -- not just potatoes and grain.

EU experts have spent the last five years trying to nail down exactly what vodka should be made from. They now look close to reaching a conclusion, rejecting an attempt by four northern EU governments to protect their versions of "traditional vodka".
In a draft law due to surface later this month, the European Commission (news - web sites) will define how vodka should be distilled but not limit the products used in the initial yeast-aided fermentation. Minimum alcoholic strength by volume will be 37.5 percent.
The bill will then be discussed by EU ministers and is almost guaranteed to spark controversy. An earlier version had stipulated that vodka should be fermented with yeast from "raw materials based on grain, potato, sugar beet and/or molasses".
Estonia, Finland, Poland and Sweden recently wrote to the Commission saying that vodka should only be distilled from the traditional origins of grain and potatoes, against the wishes of several countries that want to make vodka from other items.
"They want to keep people out of their market," one EU official said. "This is all about national protection, to keep traditional vodka," he said.
"The definition of vodka is clearly an issue," said one diplomat. "Some traditional vodka producers want a restricted list of goods out of which you can make vodka. But a number of other countries would prefer a looser list to allow innovation."
In the past, the Commission has proposed a separate product class called "traditional vodka" based only on potatoes, but this has always been rejected by the industry, officials said.
"We're not defining what it can be made from ... or trying to squeeze anyone out," said one Commission official, adding that the draft law would avoid making illegal any products that were already on the market.
This is a reference to a long-running campaign by Diageo, the world's largest spirits group, which launched its Ciroc vodka in 2003 -- made exclusively from French grapes.
"We can't allow technical barriers to trade to be put up that take perfectly legal products off the market," said Graham Bateman at the UK-based Gin and Vodka Association.


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