London's Prosecco 'ATMs' Aren't Legit, According to a Formal Complaint from Italian Winemakers

EU regulations say Prosecco must be served out of a bottle, not the spout of an 'Automated Prosecco Machine.'

To anyone interested in a quick fizz fix, the idea of an ATM machine that dispenses Prosecco may be music to your ears. But though serving Prosecco could be considered a classy upgrade for a cash machine, for makers of Prosecco, the recently-used marketing gimmick has been criticized for dragging down the good name of their sparkling wine.

Champagne flute and night atmosphere
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Earlier this year, the British wine bar chain Vagabond promoted the opening of its latest London location—which happened to be taking over the site of an old bank—by introducing an “Automated Prosecco Machine,” humorously shorted to an “APM.” The seemingly harmless promotion (which can be seen in action on YouTube here) centered around a large yellow machine from a fictional “Bank of Bubbles” featuring a sparkling wine-serving spout instead of a cash dispenser. Flutes were available on the side for those who don’t keep a Prosecco glass in their wallet.

But the protective Prosecco PDO was not amused by the stunt. (Remember, last year, they even cracked down on Prosecco & Pink Peppercorn flavor Pringles.) In February, Mara Bizzotto, an Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP), entered a formal complaint to the European Commission, calling the APM “yet another scam by a British company to the detriment of Prosecco PDO in the United Kingdom, after the sale of fake Prosecco on tap in pubs, and Prosecco-flavored sweets, crisps and tea bags in supermarkets.”

The complaint continued, “The Consorzio di Tutela del Prosecco DOC (Consortium for the Protection of DOC Prosecco) immediately took action to halt this initiative on the part of the London wine company, since Prosecco cannot be served on tap but only by the bottle, in order to safeguard its authenticity. Indeed, the improper use of the Prosecco name to sell wine on tap is tantamount to fraud against consumers and is causing huge reputational damage to producers.” As the site Beverage Daily further explains, according to EU regulations, Prosecco can only be released for consumption in properly-labeled glass bottles.

The European Commission responded to Italy this past Friday, and said that, though they sympathize with the complaint, enforcement should be brokered between Italy and the United Kingdom directly. EU law—which still applies during the ongoing Brexit transition phase—“requires the competent authorities of the Member States to take the necessary steps to stop unlawful use of geographical indications,” the Commission wrote. “It is thus for the national authorities in the UK to act in case of alleged marketing practices that infringe the terms of the product specification for ‘Prosecco.’ The Italian authorities, as the producer Member State, may bring the issue to the attention of the national authorities in the UK, as a notice and request action…. The Commission will only intervene in case it is shown that there is a systemic failure to apply EU law.”

All that being said, it’s hard to imagine a complaint will be pursued aggressively right now in the middle of a global pandemic. In fact, as Vagabond writes on its website, “In light of these terribly challenging times we have made the very difficult decision to temporarily close all our Vagabond Stores across London.” So there are no “APMs” operating at this time.

However, looking down the road to a hopefully COVID-19-free future, the current Brexit transitional period is slated to end on December 31. Depending on what the final agreement with the EU looks like, it’s possible strict protections for Prosecco may no longer apply in the UK. In which case, it’s possible that 2021 will be the year of the British APM whether Italy likes it or not.

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