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Resolution in Valencian wine region border conflict

A Spanish Supreme Court ruling in September stated that DO Valencia wines can no longer use fruit from Utiel-Requena or Alicante...

‘Por fin se ha hecho justicia.’ (Finally, justice has been served)

This strongly-worded statement was made by the Denomination of Origin Utiel-Requena in Spain’s Autonomous Region of Valencia as part of a press announcement in July. It refers to a Spanish Supreme Court ruling that was fully ratified at the end of September, closing a decade-long conflict between the region’s three DOs that pitted Valencia against Utiel-Requena and Alicante. The latter two had demanded that grapes from within their respective zones could not be used in DO Valencia wines.

Historically an agreement had existed between Valencia and Utiel-Requena since 1995 and with Alicante since 2001, wherein producers in DO Valencia were allowed to purchase a portion of their respective Bobal and Monastrell grapes (varieties each region is well known for) for use in DO Valencia wines.

While it was legally stated in the pliego de condiciones (bylaws) of DO Valencia, it was somewhat precarious as Spanish DOs rarely ever overlap with one another. But as it was officially approved at the time by the regional government as well as the governing boards of all three DOs, it had been a functional system until now.

In a press release in August 2017, DO Valencia stated that ‘…if a DO did not commercialise 50% of its production, it would have to disappear,’ as per Spanish law to justify their case that the absorption of excess grapes into DO Valencia from these other two DOs was allowing them to continue existing. There was pretext for this as at the time of the 1995 arrangement, Utiel-Requena was reportedly only using 20% of its total production and was therefore at risk of being de-qualified.

There was however a change of wording to the pliego of Valencia in 2011 to say that any grape variety from Utiel-Requena and Alicante (not just Bobal and Monastrell) could be used by DO Valencia producers. This has apparently caused an uptick in production of wine sourced from these municipalities outside DO Valencia in Utiel-Requena and Alicante, nine from the former and a smattering of others from the latter.

The managing director of DO Alicante, Eladio Martín Aniorre told Decanter, ‘At stake was the fact that with these changes we were seeing more and more wines from Alicante being produced under DO Valencia with each passing year, starting in 2011.’

Utiel-Requena, being the most affected as Valencia producers could take in grapes from all the municipalities within their DO, led the charge in 2016 to reverse these changes, signing a manifesto ‘in defence of the heritage of the territory.’ A spokesperson told Decanter that, ‘here in Utiel-Requena we have nothing in common with the rest of the DO Valencia and we’re a separate region, thus why we need to protect our point of origin under European law.’

Aniorre also claims that, ‘these changes are causing a great deal of confusion for the end consumer, which is why they need to be stopped.’

A spokesperson for DO Valencia told Decanter that all the changes were done in a legal manner and everything had been based upon long standing agreements between the three DOs.

There is, of course, a question of context as these agreements originated over two decades ago and there have since been several changes to DO administrations, increased sales, and greater regional identity for both Utiel-Requena and Alicante which have changed their overall production situations considerably.

In the July 2021 ruling by the Spanish Supreme Court, DO Valencia is now legally required to remove any mention of the affected municipalities in Utiel-Requena and Alicante as they are both external to the defined DO Valencia territory. It was also stated that the process by which they were added was not carried out in the correct manner of passing through all levels of EU approval and thus held no legal weight.

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