Wine industry reform fails to cheer Slovak vintners

Chances are you enjoyed a few glasses of wine during the winter break - but if you are a vintner in Slovakia you probably did not drink a toast to the European Commission. The EU's executive body wants to reform the wine industry and Slovak growers says that's not a cause for celebration.

The European Commission plans to reduce the amount of land devoted to vineyards in its member countries because it believes that much of the surplus wine is being grown solely for subsidies from the European Union. Additionally the surplus of wine in Europe drives overall prices down. The Commission wants to introduce incentives for vintners to take land out of production en route to a 400,000- hectare reduction. Here is the EU Commissioner for agriculture Mariann Fischer-Boel giving more details.

"Any decision taken on scraping up, is a decision taken by wine producers. I think at the end of the day it will be a financially attractive scheme. It's clear that if we do not make a bold reform proposal, there will be wine producers in Europe that will suffer a painful death."

The Slovak Minister of Agriculture Miroslav Jurena hopes Slovakia will not be too much affected by the reform of the wine sector.

"We have 22,000 hectares of vineyards in Slovakia and we would be very unhappy if asked to reduce this area. We disgaree with the current proposal and think that the EU should find a different approach to the issue of competitivness of local wines, said Jurena."

I talked about the current stage of reforms of the wine sector in the Slovak and EU context with Zsolt Cserge, the Director of the Department of Plant Commodities in the Slovak Ministry of Agriculture...

"At present I can say that there are no surplus problems in Slovakia. Probably there were smaller problems at the regional level, but these days as production has decreased a little bit I can say there is a balance on the market with wine."

What is the amount of subsidies from the EU that Slovak vintners receive, if any?

"At present Slovak producers have the possibility to receive subsidies within the rural development programme and also within the common market organisation of wine.In most of the cases the amount of subisides depennds on the amount of investment. There is also the possibility to get money from the programme for the restructuralization of the vineyards but it depends on the region where the vineyard is."

And now let's get to the issue of sweetness of wine. The amount of sugar added to wine is one of the issues debated within the EU and often mentioned by the Commissioner for Agriculture who would like to reduce it considerably. Some producers were not happy with it. Slovakia produces dry wines. Does this issue of sweetness affect Slovak producers? Maybe they will be tempted to add some sugar in case they want to export somewhere else?

Zsolt Cserge: "It is true that Slovakia produces mostly dry wines but we have to say that these wines are of high quality. Yes, producers use sugar in wine but not because they want to make it sweeter but because it's a matter of regional, geographical condition. The climate offers the optimal amount of acids which makes the wine more platable. Producers add sugar to stabilize the wine. Slovakia doesn't not agree with prohibiting the sugar use in wine."

This was Zsolt Cserge, the Director of the Department of Plant Commodities in the Slovak Ministry of Agriculture, talking about the reform of the wine sector in this country.