Bureaucratic nonsense department
The prohibition of any mention of European wine regions on Australian wine labels, or in the promotion of Australian wines, has raised the ire of veteran Hunter Valley winemaker Kevin Sobels.
The Hunter was recently audited by the worthy men and women of the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation (AWBC), as a normal part of policing the Label Integrity Program. To be fair, Sobels had come to their attention before, for using the names Champagne and Port on labels long after most of the wine industry had toed the line and dropped them. But this time, the doughty inspectors pinged Sobels for mentioning certain taboo words in the histories of various family members on the back-labels of a series of Hunter Valley reds that celebrate the distinguished six-generation history of the Sobels family.
For instance, the wine named after the founder of the dynasty, Carl August Sobels Sr (1802-1863) mentions the fact that Sobels worked in the Rhine Valley and in Champagne. And the wine commemorating the current winemaker, Jason Sobels, son of Kevin, mentions that he gained work experience in Bordeaux. Such mentions are apparently forbidden.
Presumably the fact that wines celebrating two other family members mention the forbidden word Sherry, which was a vital part of the family’s oeuvre in the early 20th century, would also have irritated the inspectors. The previous Sobels winery, Quelltaler, in the Clare Valley, was famous for its Granfiesta Sherry at a time when the use of that name was not outlawed.
There are six wines in the Sobels ‘Generation’ series of full-bodied reds, each commemorating a member of the family, which Kevin says is the only family in Australia that has made wine ‘with our own hands’ every year since 1848. Kevin himself, who is soon to turn 75, was made a Hunter Valley Living Legend three years ago.
The wines are $60 each singly, or $320 for a six-pack containing one of each.
Kevin says he has changed his sparkling burgundy to sparkling shiraz, and has recently changed the naming of his port and white port.
“I understand that if you are in the Hunter Valley and you buy some grapes from Mudgee, you need to be clear that it’s labelled as Mudgee.” But he clearly thinks the regulations go too far.
“We had a long conversation, and they (the auditors) said ‘the law is the law’. They were going to put it to a higher authority.”
This was over a month ago and he’s yet to hear the outcome.
South Australia-based online retailer David Farmer of www.glug.com.au last year got into trouble with the AWBC for describing a sparkling wine he was selling as better than Champagne. Such innocuous comparisons by wine producers or retailers are forbidden by Australian regulations.