Balsamico does not have to come from Italy, ECJ rules

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

German producer wins right to 'balsamico' name ©GettyImages-tenzinsherab
German producer wins right to 'balsamico' name ©GettyImages-tenzinsherab

Related tags Balsamico Vinegar protected designations of origin Geographical indications

The term ‘balsamico’ is not restricted to balsamic vinegar produced in Modena, Italy, according to a ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice (EJC).

Aceto Balsamico di Modena has been listed since 2009 in the register of protected designations of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indications (PGI) products. It can therefore only be produced by producers in Modena and the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy.

Since 2015, the Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena, the association representing around 50 Italian vinegar producers, has been embroiled in a legal battle with German producer Balema over the company’s use of the terms ‘balsamico’ and ‘deutscher balsamico’.

Balema, from Kehl in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, produces and markets vinegar-based products made from wines from the Baden region. The company manufactures handcrafted, natural vinegar products made from fresh raw ingredients, which are produced by farmers and winegrowers in Germany. The company's founder Theo Berl has a patented process for producing vinegar resulting in a ‘special balsamic vinegar’, such as the company’s Balsamico 1868 product, which ages from German wine in oak barrels.

According to Squire Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Balema: “The key question of the legal dispute that began in 2015 is whether the protection afforded by the registration of the entire name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ also extends to the use of individual non-geographical components of that name, namely the terms ‘aceto’, ‘balsamico’ and ‘aceto balsamico’, and whether … the term ‘balsamico’ can be considered a generic term.”

In its ruling, the EJC declared​: “The protection of the name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ does not extend to the use of the non-geographical terms of that name such as ‘aceto’ and ‘balsamico’.”

The European Court found the non-geographical terms - ‘aceto’ and ‘balsamico’ - and their use in combination and in translation ‘cannot benefit from [PDO/PGI] protection’, because the phrase ‘aceto’ is a ‘common term’ and the term ‘balsamico’ is an adjective that is ‘commonly used’ to refer to a vinegar with a bitter-sweet flavour.

Dr. Christofer Eggers, who led the Squire Patton Boggs team advising Balema, commented: “I am very happy that the ECJ has agreed with our view and that we have been able to achieve ultimate success for our client after years of legal proceedings. In addition, we are happy that this ruling finally ensures that Balsamico can legally come from Germany.”

Squre Patton Boggs confirmed that the case has attracted international attention from various national authorities. “This case also attracted international interest from the governments of Germany, Greece and France, which all hold the view that the terms ‘aceto’, ‘aceto balsamico’ and ‘balsamico’ are generic terms or non-geographical names,”​ the legal advisors noted.

However, the Italian vinegar producers slammed the decision.

“We consider this decision to be totally unjust. The reality is that many European countries have partly wanted to appropriate the worldwide success achieved by Balsamic Vinegar of Modena - this is the only vinegar to be sweet-and-sour and to use the word ‘balsamic’, a word that was attributed to it many centuries ago by the Este dukes, who thought it was medicinal,”​ Mariangela Grosoli, the president of the Consortium for Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, said.

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