food & drink

The war is lost

It has been a conflict lasting nearly a decade and Goliath has finally beaten David. While in every other market in the world wine is sold in Bag-in-Box format (BIB), in Sherryland it has been banned by a court judgement.

This is the first time in the centuries-old history of wine that a panel of judges has been asked to decide how a product can be marketed, as if this were a matter that could be decided by the rule of law rather than the regulatory organisations of the trade. Nor is there any appeal possible, since the decision by the Supreme Court is final, although Brussels might be an option if the damaged parties get their act together. To its credit the Junta de Andalucía took the side of the BIB bodegas on the basis that more jobs would be created.

Fedejerez, the trade body that the Goliaths belong to, has always fought to maintain the veto on box wine, making it clear that its grounds were to preserve the image of sherry rather than allow it to be sold in a format that would be negative.

Put another way, the most hygienic and practical bottling method, with the strongest defence against fraud (the BIB box cannot be refilled), the most environment-friendly and preferred by consumers, has been prohibited as being image-damaging.

While in France, Italy, and most north European countries box wine is accepted as routine, the big sherry bodegas have blocked smaller bodegas from using it. The most hypocritical aspect of it all is that these same big names, including Osborne, Barbadillo and González Byass, employ this method of packaging for their export wines, and even in Spain they commercialise their other non-Jerez wines in BIB.

These same companies have been happily selling their products to EU supermarket chains to be bottled and labelled completely outside their control for decades. Even the five-litre carafes, used to transport wine and vulnerable to substitution with inferior wine, are unaffected.

It really looks like a case of no one, except the small producers affected by the ban, wants sherry to be sold in anything but glass bottles.