Red, white, but not blue: Spain bans wine because it’s the wrong colour

When five young Spaniards came up with the idea of marketing a blue wine, it was dismissed by Spain’s traditional vintners as a gimmick that would never take off.

Red, white, but not blue: Spain bans wine because it’s the wrong colour
Can blue wine challenge pink? Photo: Gik

But since launching on the market last summer, Gik has shaken up the industry and sold close to 100,000 bottles to clients in some 25 countries, becoming something of a must-have tipple among young hipsters.

But now, the producers have been told they cannot market their produce as ‘wine’ because it is the wrong colour.

“It is absurd because its composition is 100 percent grape,” explain the entrepreneurs behind the product.

The vino is created from a selection of Spanish grape varieties and then turned a deep electric blue hue with the addition of anthyocyacin, a natural pigment extracted from grape skin, and indigo, a natural dye derived from the woad plant.

When they launched the product last summer, the team behind Gik admitted that they had no experience of wine-making between them and that the colour made no difference at all to the taste.

“Drinking Gïk is not just about drinking blue wine,” read the blurb reported by The Local at the time. “You are drinking innovation, you are breaking the rules and creating your own ones. You are reinventing tradtitions.”

The founders now admit that: “There's no revolution without a counter-revolution.”

“When we created Gik, our aim was to innovate in the most traditional sector of our country: wine industry. They considered us fools for trying. They called us blasphemous for 'playing' with Christ's blood. But nothing stopped us,” explain the Gik founders in a petition they have launched on calling for support in their fight for recognition as a wine.

“But in the end, the Spanish wine lobby, helped by some public institutions, stopped our revolution by imposing prohibitons and sanctions.

“In order to continue selling, we have been forced to stop labelling Gik as a wine. Instead, we had to label it as a bastard category named 'Other alcoholic drinks'. The main reason? There's not a category for a blue wine, as there is no historic background for anything similar.

Last August, following an anonymous complaint, the young creators of Gik were visited by two inspectors and the product was stopped pending an investigation.

They were told that as there is no 'blue wine' category among the 17 listed wine products mentioned in Annex VII part II of Regulation 1308/2013,  it cannot therefore be labelled as”wine” and a fine was imposed accordingly.

They have had to change the labelling on the product to  “99 percent wine and 1 percent grape must” to ensure the product meets the requirements of current legislation.

Correction: This article was amended to clarify that the producers were not taken to court over the labelling.

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Uphill battle: Spain’s wine growers forced to adapt to climate change

For over a century, Joaquin Gay de Montella Estany's family produced wine in Spain's Mediterranean region of Catalonia, but the effects of climate change have pushed them to seek higher ground.

Uphill battle: Spain's wine growers forced to adapt to climate change
Over the past 60 years, average temperatures in Spain have risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius, forcing Spanish wine producers to adapt. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

Now their Torre del Veguer winery also has vineyards at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains — at an altitude of nearly 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) — where temperatures are cooler.

It’s one of the ways in which Spain’s wine producers are trying to adapt, as a warmer climate advances the harvest season and makes the need for more heat-tolerant grape varieties greater.

In searing August heat, farm workers pick the white grapes by hand at a vineyard with sea views in Penedes, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the city of Barcelona.

Higher temperatures have brought the grape harvest forward by 10 to 15 days over the past decade, said Gay de Montella Estany, who owns the ecological winery.

“We have to harvest at the start of August when the heat is the most intense,” he told AFP.

So in 2008, the company moved part of its production to Bolvir, a village in the Pyrenees near the French border.

Speedy ripening

With a total of 961,000 hectares (2.4 million acres) of vines, Spain has the largest area of vineyards in the world, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine says.

It is the third biggest wine producer behind Italy and France.

Over the past 60 years, average temperatures in Spain have risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius, according to the national weather office, Aemet.

And wine producers have seen an impact, as the timing of the harvest is crucial.

An employee tends to the grapevines at the Torres vineyard at a 950-metre altitude in Tremp near Lleida in the Catalan Pyrenees. 

Higher average temperatures speed up the ripening of the grapes, which leads to lower acidity and increased sugars in the fruit.

This yields higher alcohol levels in the wine and also alters other compounds in grapes that affect aroma and flavour.

Grapes must be picked quickly to avoid an excessive alcohol content.

“Essentially these grapes have not fully ripened in the right way,” said Fernando Zamora, a professor in the oenology department at Rovira I Virgili University in Tarragona.


The Familia Torres winery, one of Spain’s largest producers, embraced higher elevation more than 20 years ago, despite facing scepticism at the time.

The company, which has grown from a small family business in the late 19th century, began planting grapes in Tremp, 160 kilometres northeast of its Vilafranca de Penedes base, in 1998.

Grapes for making wine had never been grown before at higher altitudes in this region in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

“Farmers in the area thought it was absurd. They thought grapes would not mature,” said Xavier Admella, who is in charge of the farm located at an altitude of 950 metres.

“Climate change has proven us right,” he added, as workers set up nets to protect the vines from hail which is much more common along mountain ranges.

Ancient grape varieties are treated in vitro at the Torres vineyard lab in Vilafranca del Penedes near Barcelona.

New techniques

In Tremp, temperatures are almost 10 degrees Celsius cooler than at sea level, Miguel A. Torres, president of the Familia Torres winery, said.

That makes it possible to grow grape varieties to produce white wines “that still have very good acidity levels”, he added.

The company, which exports to 150 countries, also has a laboratory where it revives grape strains that have almost disappeared.

One of them which performs well at high altitudes has already been planted in Tremp.

But the fight to adapt has a stiff price tag.

“The future is complicated,” Torres said, adding the wine sector had asked for aid from both the Spanish government and European Union.

Gay de Montella Estany agrees.

He predicts that Spain’s wine sector will have to go on planting at higher altitudes and “look for grape varieties that ripen later” to survive.

He does not rule out that some parts of the country, especially in the south, will one day no longer be suitable for wine production.

Not everyone is as pessimistic, though.

“Climate change is leading many wineries to get their act together and learn how to make wine, not like our grandparents did, but by looking for new techniques,” university professor Zamora said.

“And wines are now much better than they were a few years ago.”