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New Act Protects New Zealand’s Geographical Indications for Wine

by Catherine Fallis, MS

As vibrant, warm, happy and lively the place, people and wines are, it is only after 25 years of global success that the New Zealand wine industry is locking down place name protection on a global level. New Zealanders have a keen sense of their natural blessings and are leaders in sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming. The Maori culture, which is widely embraced, instills a respect for the land, and a sense of place, belonging, community, and longevity.

New Zealand wine regions. Map courtesy of Wines of New Zealand.

As it stands now, any region producing wine can call itself an appellation, and that place name is protected, but only within the country itself. These established regional names are technically considered “geographical indications” as defined in the 1994 TRIPS agreement between World Trade Organization nations. To provide more widespread place name protection, the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act passed in 2006, but was not brought into force until last week. Finally passed in November 2016, the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Amendment Bill creates a GI Register and  provides a regime for registering place names for GI’s as wine or spirits. It is administered by the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). Unlike most other intellectual property rights, GI’s are collective rights. Any producer who makes goods from the particular area and meets the requirements to use that GI can use it.

According to New Zealand Winegrowers, “GI’s indicate the geographical origin of goods that have a given quality, reputation or other feature attributable to their geographical origin. The GI registration regime protects the interests of consumers of wine and spirits by providing assurance that the product using a registered GI originates from the area to which the GI relates.”

“The ability to register regional names, such as MARLBOROUGH and MARTINBOROUGH, ensures that the qualities and reputations associated with products from these regions are maintained. A GI register will also make it easier for exporters to promote and protect their wines and spirits abroad, which is intended to aid the growth of New Zealand’s wine exports. This is pertinent to New Zealand winemakers as wine exports have grown significantly since the Act was passed. New Zealand wine exports are valued at $1.66 billion for the year to the end of June 2017. The industry is working towards a goal of $2 billion of exports in 2020.

“For a wine to be labeled with a New Zealand registered GI, at least 85% of the wine must come from grapes harvested in the region to which the GI relates (the 85% rule). Under the Act, there is no restriction on where the other 15% of wine must originate from. However, the Bill amends this to provide that where a wine is labelled with a New Zealand registered GI, all the wine must be made from grapes harvested in New Zealand. For spirits, the entire spirit must have originated in the geographical origin to which the registered GI relates. GI users must also adhere to any other restrictions placed on the GI.”

Thinking about AOC-type appellations was on the mind of early leaders in the industry. John Buck OBE, New Zealand Wine Hall of Famer, and Chairman of Te Mata Estate, informed me that New Zealand’s first and second GI’s, recognized twenty years ago, were the Te Mata and Gibbston Special Character zones. In 1996 the Havelock Hills area in Hawkes Bay was recognized for the significance of its natural and viticultural heritage when it was designated the Te Mata Special Character Zone. This and Central Otago’s Gibbston Special Character zone both allow for viticulture and should appear as GI’s later this year if they register with IPONZ. Buck explained, “they both just received master level registration” but that is only for local protection.

Jeffrey Clarke, New Zealand Winegrowers Acting CEO, says, “Once New Zealand’s GIs are formally registered, it will also make them easier to cross-register within other countries’ formalized GI systems-and similarly, the act will allow other countries to register their own registered GIs in New Zealand. There will be no heirarchy. Either you register or you don’t.”

“The Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act will be a significant advance for the New Zealand wine industry,” said New Zealand Winegrowers CEO, Philip Gregan. “Our ‘Geographical Indications’ – the names and places where our wines come from – are at the very heart of the New Zealand identity.”


There are several marketing initiatives in the works or already in place to help consumers more easily identify where the wines come from. Wellington Wine Country is going forward as a marketing name, and it includes the GI’s Wairarapa and it sub zones of Martinborough, Masterton and Gladstone. WWC will not register for a wine GI but others are expected to. In Hawkes Bay, Gimblett Gravels has a registered trademark, an early step in protecting their place name globally.


The New Zealand Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act came into force on Thursday, July 27th.  “The Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act is a significant advance for the New Zealand wine industry,” said Clarke. “Our ‘Geographical Indications’ (GIs) – the names and places where our wines come from – are at the very heart of the New Zealand wine story and this new law provides an additional level of protection for them.”

“We are very pleased to have 18 priority GI applications filed just after midnight on the day the GI Act came into force. The registration of these GIs will provide a solid platform for New Zealand wine producers to promote our wines and regions in international markets and ensure investment in our regional identities are better protected.”

The GIs for which applications have been filed are:





Waiheke Island


 Hawke’s Bay

Central Hawke’s Bay







North Canterbury

Waipara Valley

 Waitaki Valley North Otago

Central Otago

From here, the process to registration is as follows:

 The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) will now review each GI application to see whether it meets the legal requirements, and decide whether or not the GI is accepted.  That initial review may take up to three months.

  If the GI application is accepted, IPONZ will advertise the acceptance of the GI in the Journal of IPONZ.  This begins a further 3-month period in which any person may oppose the application.  This opposition period can be extended.  If no objection is raised, the GI will be registered.

  If the GI application is not accepted, the applicant wine region will be sent a “compliance report” explaining why the application does not meet the requirements, and giving at least 6 months to respond.

More detail on the registration process can be found at:

No formal list of appellations for New Zealand exists yet, though the above 18 would be first if they are approved.

Certain GI’s were automatically registered once the register is implemented. These are:


These GI’s may not be removed from the register or altered and do not require renewal. They are enduring, permanent GI’s.

Marlborough, the “engine room” of New Zealand wine as local Master of Wine Bob Campbell calls it, will certainly benefit from place name protection. With nearly 400 producers of Sauvignon Blanc and brand recognition around the world, it is high time protections were set in place. Perhaps you recall the “Hello Kitty Prosecco” incident, which spurred the folks in Prosecco to clamp down and tighten up their rules and zones of production? As soon as the Marlborough GI is approved, or New Zealand GI for that matter, if a business in Australia or China for instance tries to market a local, non- New Zealand wine as such they will face stiff fines and penalties.


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