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MARSEILLE, France (Reuters Life!) - Provence is up in arms against a pending rule change that would allow rose wine to be made by simply blending white wine with red.
The southern French region is the cradle of rose wine, a variety fast gaining international popularity.
Rose wines can in fact vary in color from a shade of pink to bright orange. They are produced here by taking the skins of red wine grapes out of the vats with grape juice after only a few days, instead of keeping them in the vats during the entire fermentation process as with red wines.
This means the skins give off some color and tannins to the juice, and later wine, that will be lighter in taste and color than the reds.
Some rose is made by 'bleeding' vats of red wine -- the vintner taps early rose juice from the vat so that the remaining red juice gets a more pronounced taste.
Grapes used for rose production are the Rhone valley varieties of Syrah, Grenache and Carrignan.
Three-quarters of French rose wine production comes from the Provence region, the rest being made mainly in Bordeaux and the Loire area.
But in South Africa, Australia and the United States, rose is made by mixing 2 percent of red wine with 98 percent of white.
And Europe could go down the same road.
Wine experts of the 27 member countries of the European Union until decide on the matter on June 19 -- just a week after European parliament elections.
Resistance is spreading from wine growers to politicians. On the building of the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) a large slogan calls for the defense of the region's values.
"This proposed European rule could cause an economic earthquake," said PACA's socialist president Michel Vauzelle.
"Such a decision will put thousands of jobs at risk -- it's heresy. Rose cannot be reduced to just a color," he added.
The local council of the pays d'Aix has voted unanimously to start legal proceedings if the EU drops the current ban on blending.
The European Commission wants to remove the ban to allow European producers to compete better on the growing export markets in Asia. "Real" rose could carry a mention on the label.
Gilles Masson, director of the area's rose research center, said that while the mixed wine has a taste close to the real thing, it remains an imitation.
"You don't get the specific aroma of rose which we get from dark grapes and a special production method. You don't get that harmony, that balance on the palate of acidity and alcohol. It is just a colored wine," he said
Francois Millo, director of the Provence wine growers body CIVP, fears money will be lost.
"Consumers will lose confidence when, lured by the color, they buy a white wine with some drops of red in it," he said.
"We can very well compete with the blends by making quality wines. We do not need to surrender to the lobby of international trade," he added.
On May 26, Provence vintners will hold a news conference in Brussels with colleagues from Spain, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. In the meantime, an internet petition (http:://www.coupernestpasrose.com) has attracted 28,000 names.
Writing by Marcel Michelson; Editing by Steve Addison