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NEIGHBOURING STATES END 40-YEAR DISPUTE OVER TOP WINE LABEL

Slovakia toasts Tokay

AFTER 40 years Slovakia and Hungary have finally agreed on a common Tokay viticulture area that promises greater sales for the Slovak makers of the world famous wine label.
On June 2, the Slovak Agriculture Minister Zsolt Simon and his Hungarian counterpart, Imre Németh, signed an agreement concerning the Slovak part of the Tokay area, which, at 565.2 hectares, is about one 10th the size of that of the Hungarian Tokay area.

AFTER 40 years Slovakia and Hungary have finally agreed on a common Tokay viticulture area that promises greater sales for the Slovak makers of the world famous wine label.

On June 2, the Slovak Agriculture Minister Zsolt Simon and his Hungarian counterpart, Imre Németh, signed an agreement concerning the Slovak part of the Tokay area, which, at 565.2 hectares, is about one 10th the size of that of the Hungarian Tokay area.

Only weeks before the deal was signed, the agreement still seemed distant, as the Hungarians were proposing to recognise the Slovak Tokay area as a mere 330 hectares, "under the condition that Slovakia accepts Hungarian laws related to the production of the wines, and that common quality controls are introduced," Zoltán Harcz from the Hungarian Agriculture Ministry told the AFP news agency in late May. The new agreement recognising the Slovak Tokay area at almost 600 hectares in seven eastern Slovak municipalities - Bara, Čerhov, Černochov, Malá Tŕňa, Slovenské Nové Mesto, Veľká Tŕňa, and Viničky- came with the blessing of the Slovak cabinet.

"The agreement came after the Slovak cabinet accepted minister Simon's revised proposal on the same day [that the agreement was signed]," Katarína Czajlíková, the Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman, told The Slovak Spectator on June 7.

According to Simon, the new Slovak and Hungarian deal would not only facilitate the production and marketing of the wine brand, but also contribute to the development of tourism in the winemaking region, as the Tokay area will be incorporated into the World Heritage of the United Nations Cultural Fund.

"This agreement shows that the Tokay vineyard area spreads across the territories of both countries, and both states will proceed together on the issue of protecting and administering the Tokay label in the future," Simon said at a press conference on June 3.

Of the agreed 565 hectares of the Slovak Tokay area, only 375 hectares are being cultivated, according to Simon. He therefore thinks that, "it is possible to expand Tokay production". He said that without state help, more than Sk200 million (€5 million) would be invested in the area within two years.

The two ministers also agreed on the common criteria under which Tokay vineyards are to be evaluated, as well as the unification of the criteria according to which Tokay wine quality will be evaluated.

"The consumers must be sure that when they drink Tokay, they really drink the royal drink," Simon said.

The winemakers themselves are hoping that the agreement will trigger higher sales.

"Increasing production is naturally limited by the geographical parameters of the region, but sales and exports could certainly grow," winemaker Jaroslav Ostrožovie of Veľká Tŕňa, who works 70 hectares of Tokay vineyard, said to The Slovak Spectator on June 7.

"It is hard to say what to expect from the agreement, but having one common area spreading into two states with the two states respecting each other is a positive development," Ostrožovie said.

However, Miloš Ševeík, head of the Grapes and Wine Producers Union, told the daily Pravda that Slovakia "should have negotiated a larger area."

Simon argued that, although original Slovak vineyards are spread over 908 hectares, according to the Slovak viticulture law, only an area of 375 hectares is currently being used.

Apart from the applications of Hungary and Slovakia, the European Union registers four other requests for the protection of the Tokay trademark. The states aspiring for the trademark include Australia, Italy, France, and Slovenia. These states have a transition period allowing them to use the label until the end of 2007.

Simon said that by the end of this year, Slovakia and Hungary would have to harmonize its legislation regarding the marketing, quality, and production of wine. Then the Slovak exports carrying the label could begin.

Winemaker Ostrožovie also hopes that the change will result in increased wine tourism to the Slovak Tokay area, with foreign visitors coming to taste the wine directly in the local cellars.

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