For several years now, consumers organizations and the press have alerted the public to the degradation of appellation (AOC) wines in France. Let us recall that in December 1995 consumer magazine UFC Que Choisir published an enquiry (Vins français, la qualité en peril = French wine, quality endangered) questioning in a well argued article the quality of wines and the authenticity of the claims of French AOCs. We also recall that Alain Berger, at the time director of INAO, declared in this article that “one can find on the market today some horrible products marked with the AOC label… AOC wines today represent half of the French production by volume. It is too much, we must stop this now”.
Finally we recall that the winemaker’s unions at that time arrogantly and violently attacked Que Choisir, and managed to get Alain Berger fired.
In its announcement on September 3rd, 2007, UFC Que Choisir asks the same question again, 12 years later: for wine consumers, is the AOC label reliable? Sève, an association of winemakers founded in order to obtain a radical reform of the appellation system, agrees with the answer given by UFC Que Choisir: No! Because “the loss of credibility of the AOCs is explained also by the coexistence within the appellations of two types of wine with very different quality-price ratios, and which must now be officially separated: on the one hand, wines that have a strong link to terroir that respect the original definition of AOC, on the other hand wines with less character that correspond to a new market demand, and that should develop outside of the appellation system. By distinguishing these two categories with distinct labels, we can satisfy the double requirement of making consumer choices clearer while safeguarding the AOC heritage.” (UFC Que Choisir)
In an article in the French language section of TheWineBlog.net Marc Parcé, winemaker at Banyuls and Maury (Domaine de la Rectorie and Préceptorie de Centernach) and one of the leaders of the winemaker’s association Sève, has pointed out the risks of the AOC reform being prepared by INAO, the French government body in charge of regulating appellations for food and wine.
In his reading of the recent reports from INAO and CNAOC (the national confederation of AOCs) concerning the specifications and the plans for inspections and controls on wine, all the positive points of the reform have been diluted or removed, while the most dubious ones, especially those that will bring a leveling down of all wines, remain.
The time has come to assess a century of rules and practices of the Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées in France.
Patrick Baudouin, winemaker in the Loire and a leader of Sève, an association of winemakers identified by terroir, has published an article in the French language section of TheWineBlog.net advocating such an assessment, arguing that the appellation system is part of France’s cultural heritage and that it naturally implies “terroir”, a word impossible to translate, and therefore used in all languages to convey the importance of origin in quality wine, and the need to defend this origin, be it in France or anywhere in the world, for wine or for any quality produce. Despite this, the following question has never been more pertinent than today: in 2007, do the appellations bear any relation to what was imagined by their creators, a group that included J Capus and baron Le Roy? What follows is an abridged translation of his article.
Patrick Baudouin, winemaker in the Loire and a leader of Sève, an association of winemakers identified by terroir, has published an article in the French language section of TheWineBlog.net about the tyranny of the wine tastings used to approve appellation wines, pointing out the absolute unreliability of such subjective, imprecise procedures. What follows is an abridged translation of his article.
Despite all the criticism and evidence of their shortcomings, these tasting are being reintroduced by the current AOC reform as the most important criterion for approving wines as AOC. The latest INAO report argues that it is not the tastings themselves that are at fault, but the way they are conducted, which does not offer guarantees of impartiality. In order to correct this, INAO proposes to replace the current tasting panels, composed only of the winemakers themselves, with panels comprising experts, consumers/merchants, and something described as “carriers of memory”, whatever that means, presumably sages that know what wines from a certain area should taste like!
This flies in the face of the reforms that Seve had suggested, because it reintroduces tasting as a fundamental test for approving wines, because it allows the local control organization to chose the tasting panels, and because it brings back, through this tasting, the idea of a taste profile for each appellation, and wines that do not fit that standardizing profile will be rejected. It is the return of the slippery notion of what is typical of an appellation. Such procedures are not based on any solid scientific, cultural or commercial logic.