The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled Wednesday that the protected status of the name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” does not extend to the non-geographic terms in the name. The ruling favored the German vinegar producer Balema, which uses “balsamico” and “deutscher balsamico” to market vinegar-based products made from local wines.
A group of Italian vinegar producers registered “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” in the register of protected designations of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indications (PGI) in 2009. Balema‘s site where they brew vinegar was built in 2002 but is associated with a vinegar producer that has existed since 1868. When the Italian producers of “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” asked Balema to stop using “balsamico” in their labels, Balema asked the German courts to rule that it has the right to use “balsamico” and “aceto.”
After a lengthy legal battle, the German courts referred the issue to the ECJ last year. On Wednesday the court ruled that only “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” as a whole has protected status under EU law. It did acknowledge that the name has an established national and international reputation. However, the court pointed out that both “aceto” and “balsamico” are commonly used words. The court additionally stated that “aceto” and “balsamico” appear in the registered PDOs of other vinegar producers without infringing on the protected status of “Aceto Balsamico di Modena.” As such, according to the ECJ, “aceto” and “balsamico” clearly to not have protected status. The producers of Aceto Balsamico di Modena have since declared the ruling unjust, arguing that only their vinegar has the bitter-sweet flavor required to be labeled “balsamico.”