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The European Union recognition places region's iconic product under new legal protection.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The European Union has announced that wines produced in the Willamette Valley will receive new protection under its Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) program.

The European Union has announced that wines produced in the Willamette Valley will receive new protection under its Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) program. The intent is to prevent winemakers from outside the Willamette Valley from falsely or deceptively using the region's name on their labels.

"It's a major breakthrough in global brand awareness and a milestone for the valley's many hardworking wine growers and winemakers," a release from the Willamette Valley Wineries Association said. "The PGI system protects iconic names of agricultural products, spirit drinks and wines with a link to their geographical origin, including well-known products such as Champagne and Barolo. Only two American wine regions, Napa Valley and now the Willamette Valley, carry this distinction.

"This acknowledgment from the EU affirms and protects the Willamette Valley's reputation for quality. It offers legal security and added protection in Europe and worldwide against fraudulent wines and outside producers looking to profit from the revered Willamette Valley name. As wine regions develop global recognition for quality, their success often carries with it the threat of tangential producers looking to capitalize on their marketing cachet."

Those seeking to capitalize can create misleading labels that may say "Willamette Valley" on them, when in fact the wine isn't from the region at all. This EU recognition requires a description of the unique location where the wine was grown and produced.

"As a registered Protected Geographical Indication the Willamette Valley name is secured throughout the EU market of 27 countries counting 450 million consumers," EU ambassador to the United States Stavros Lambrinidis said. "Any operator seeking to sell non-originating wine using the registered Oregon name, or using labeling devices to evoke 'Willamette Valley' in the mind of the consumer, will be stopped.

"For the EU consumer, the PGI is the guarantee of authenticity: that every bottle meets the quality standard set by the Willamette producers … It is still the EU certification that gives producers like Willamette their calling-card to key markets."

Ridgecrest Wineries founder Harry Peterson-Nedry has been pushing for the distinction for nearly two decades.

"I felt labeling and place name protection were principled tenets of what Oregon has always been and should be," Peterson-Nedry said. "It offered recognition for the pioneers' priorities and principles and for the ongoing desire to do the right thing for consumers. The reality is that some wine producers could unfairly appropriate the hard historical work put in by others, by using their wine region names and cheating long-term both the wine industry and consumers."

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