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Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 13:45 GMT
Cider Brandy goes to Brussels
Dave Harvey
Dave Harvey
The Politics Show
BBC West

Cider apples

This week a delegation of Cider makers will go to the European Commission to meet top officials. The mission 'save Cider Brandy'.

Already, five Ambassadors have been embroiled in a row which stretches from Taunton to Thessaloniki. Why?

"We have a 300 year-old-history - but if this Euro regulation stands it will all go down the plughole." Julian Temperley is quietly seething.

Yet another strand in the tapestry of the English countryside is unravelling this week, courtesy of Brussels. This time, it is Cider Brandy.

Cider mash fermenting
Cider mash... EU row fermenting

Cider what? Well - you take vintage West Country cider and put it through copper stills, then leave it for 15 years.

You get an amber, aromatic drink that swirls round the glass smelling of orchards.

It is a cousin to Cognac, made from apples just as Cognac is made from grapes.

Cider still
Cider Brandy... ferment then distill

But now, an EU Directive on spirits threatens the whole heritage. Unless a last ditch victory can be secured, they will have to call their drink "Cider Spirit".

Decades of marketing and centuries of tradition will be lost.

"Brandy is an incredibly important word", says Mr Temperley, "you've got to have a category - a whisky, a brandy, a Vodka. But more than that, it's a demotion, an end to our history."

Barmy Brussels Bureaucrats?

First, we thought it was a Barmy Brussels Story - in fact, Barmy Brussels Bureaucrats Bash Brave Brandy Boys fits the bill.

"Sadly for the headline writers, that's wrong" insists Graham Watson, MEP. He has been pursuing the Cider Brandy saga for a while.

He discovered that the first draft of the directive, written by European Commission officials specifically protected Somerset Cider Brandy.

Then they sent it off to the Council of Ministers.

If it was not those 'barmy bureaucrats', the other usual suspects of every Euro story are the 'pesky foreigners'.

And it turns out there are Spanish fingerprints on the Directive. The Spanish Brandy industry lobbied their government hard.

They wanted to remove all competition to their grape brandies. Spain recruited Greece, Italy and France as allies. When the regulation went to the EU Council of Ministers, Spain got the key words "Cider Brandy" removed.

Dirty Dagoes dash Dad's distillery?

"Wrong again" says Mr Watson. Yes, those countries lobbied against Cider Brandy - but they fully expected Britain to fight back. But Britain did not.

In what Whitehall officials now call an 'oversight', the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not consult with the Cider Brandy makers.

And they did not object to the removal of the words "Cider Brandy" from the Directive.

Julian Temperley
Julian Temperley sniffs his 'Somerset Alchemy'

Julian Temperley sees it like this. "Had the British government said, 'hey up chaps, this is causing us a problem', then Brussels would have put us back in.

"But you can be forgiven for thinking people in Whitehall don't know anything west of Andover."

Graham Watson also lays the blame at Whitehall's feet, but he is looking forward, not back.

"I'm on a round of meetings with the five European Ambassadors" he says, "putting our case and asking them to reconsider their objections.

"And so far, they are listening sympathetically."

Dave Harvey
Your correspondent sniffed, but retired unhurt for the drive home

Interestingly, neither the MEP nor even the Distiller have come out of this infuriated with the whole European Pantomime.

"Europe is all about small regional products, maybe even silly little ones like ours!" chuckles Julian Temperley.

"Brussels understands this better perhaps than our government. It is the various small quirky businesses like ours that make up the English countryside.

"If we aren't protected, then the countryside is the less for it."

The Politics Show for the East, with Jon Sopel and David Garmston on Sunday 02 December at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.


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