Assistant Trade Minister sees firsthand the magnitude of Prosecco investment in the King Valley

By Steve Kelly

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) were on the agenda when Assistant Minister for Trade Mark Coulton visited Brown Brothers’ Winery at Milawa last week following an FTA seminar earlier in Beechworth.

The King Valley is the leading Australian region in the EU geographical indicators debate of Prosecco naming rights with the Italian wine industry which is attempting to achieve a similar monopoly that the French successfully acquired with Champagne.

Brown Family Wine Group (BFWG) alone has spent millions of dollars on planting Prosecco vines and plans to develop a Prosecco packaging facility costing more than $20 million.

BFWG co-owner John Brown explained that they are being challenged by the Italians for the use of the name Prosecco when it is actually a grape variety, not like the name Champagne, which is a French region.

“We’re arguing the point that because Prosecco is a grape variety, like a granny smith or Jonathan apple, the question is, why can’t we use and market it with that name on it,” Brown said.

“We’re trying to get the government to challenge that and make sure it’s protected.

“We’ve made a big investment in here for the future of Prosecco which we think is very strong and that’s going to be a keystone for this valley and region.”

Coulton met with Brown on Wednesday to see the operation first hand and inform future free trade agreement negotiations by the Commonwealth Government.

“There are some sensitivities for the Brown family coming up with the EU negotiations and some of the geographic indicators, the issues around that,” Coulton said.

“I’ve also had meetings with representatives from the King Valley including the Dal Zotto family and I’ve been involved in other FTAs with Asia.

“It’s a complex document and it’s very important that our negotiators know the importance of the products that get traded backwards and forwards and the implications for a local business and also a region.

“The local industry here has done a very solid job in letting the department know the importance of this.”

Coulton also discussed decentralisation and how they can work with established companies like Browns to grow and build on job creation.

He suggested that by opening up new markets and helping businesses grow so job growth can occur in a stable way rather than artificially implementing an outside business that might not stay in the region.

“I also want to find out if there are any issues with workforce, freight and connection to markets,” he said.

Photo: Assistant Minister for Trade Mark Coulton (left) met with John Brown to discuss free trade agreements around the Australian wine industry and the Prosecco name. Credit: Mel Guy