New Zealand Law Society - Wine and law

Wine and law

Wine and law
John Barker

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A New Zealander is in line to lead the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) – an institution which is sometimes referred to as the “UN of wine”.

Auckland lawyer Dr John Barker, who has been nominated to become the Director General of the Paris-based organisation, has decades of experience in the wine industry.

After graduating from Auckland University in 1992 with a BA/LLB, he spent a year working in the wine industry, before joining Simpson Grierson as a banking and finance litigation lawyer. After a few years there, he moved to Melbourne to work for Freehills which was starting up a wine practice.

He later returned to New Zealand to do his doctorate on international regulation of the wine industry.

After completing his PhD, Dr Barker joined the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (which is now part of the Ministry of Primary Industries) as its wine programme manager, before taking a role as General Counsel and General Manager Advocacy and Trade at New Zealand Winegrowers, where he stayed for a decade.

He set up his own firm, John Barker Law, in 2014, and works with both local and international clients in the wine industry, offering strategic legal and policy advice.

The different winemaking histories as well as different regulatory systems throughout the world means a different approach is often needed depending on the jurisdiction.

“Even something as simple as the difference between a common law system, where you tend to make laws as issues arise, versus a civil law system, where you take the approach of codifying all of your laws – that makes a significant difference to how you approach things.”

However, Dr Barker says, despite historical and legal variances, winemaking is a globalising industry. “Although we may have started from different places, there is more and more that we have in common across the whole sector.”

He sees some of the common issues facing wine and grape producing countries as climate change, environmental concerns, changing trading environments and changing demographic environments.


The OIV is an international, intergovernmental organisation, which represents about 85% of the world’s wine production. It has 46 members – including New Zealand – and is a scientific and technical reference body.

“In effect, it lays down guidelines and recommendations on all manner of things relating to wine, grapes and other grapevine products,” says Dr Barker. “Like winemaking practices, sustainable wine growing practices, how you label your wine – a wide range of wine-related things. In some countries, for example all the EU countries, some of those recommendations are directly incorporated into their laws.”

Dr Barker says the OIV is an important organisation for the New Zealand wine industry. “The New Zealand wine industry is very engaged with international markets. Although we’re not one of the biggest producers in the world by volume, we’re actually the seventh biggest exporter in terms of value of goods globally.

“Therefore, the international organisation which lays down a lot of the rules of the game is extremely important. Of course, if I am elected to this role, I wouldn’t be there representing New Zealand, I’d be representing the whole membership of the organisation.”

He says his vision for the organisation is for “an open and inclusive OIV that stands as a global reference point for a rapidly changing sector”.

He already has history with the OIV, including a stint as the President of the organisation’s Law and Economy Commission. “The way the OIV is structured is it has four commissions dealing with viticulture, oenology (winemaking), law and food safety and health. I was in charge of the law commission for a period of three years.”

The OIV’s current Director General, Jean-Marie Aurand, is set to retire next year, which has set off an election process. The nominations have closed and as well as Dr Barker, there is one other candidate, Pau Roca from Spain.

The election for the role will be held on 6 July this year, and the new appointee will take up the position in January 2019.

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