The AOC reform will fail if the French wine appellation system refuses to redefine its market segments.

Mike Tommasi 2007-09-12T14:16:30+00:000000003030200709 Wine

In an article in the French language section of 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.

In France each appellation now has an ODG (organization for its defense and management), but according to Marc these are not much different from the old « syndicats de cru », where in the name of some kind of democratic principles the majority (of bulk producers) ruled and any dissenting voices, usually coming from the best winemakers in the appellation, were ignored or suppressed, in fact they were not even invited to the debates.
The main feature of this reform is that tastings are being reintroduced as well as organoleptic tests. The reports seem to exclude any possibility of positive changes in the appellation system.

“The reform does not change the principle according to which tastings are the main instrument for controlling production in particular concerning AOCs.” (INAO)

Sève had organized a conference in Banyuls with neurobiologist Patrick MacLeod and statistician Marc Danzart, and had demonstrated amply the limits of sensorial analysis as applied to controlling appellation wines. The reforms proposed by Gérard Boesch were a step in the right direction because based on the idea that tastings cannot be one of the main elements in the recognition and validation of the quality procedures of a winemaker; instead, it is the analysis of how the wines are made that he recognized as essential in approving a winery’s product. This new declaration by INAO is a catastrophic regression and signals a return to standardization and homogenization of wines through tastings.

Even the CNAOC has come out with statements that show how, with the excuse that there is no time for anything but small cosmetic changes, in fact nothing will change!

Marc Parcé point out that Sève had given its support to this reform, because it seemed to contain the seeds of a renaissance based on quality, one that was coherent with the philosophy of Joseph Capus: that we need to defend this meritocracy because it has allowed many winemakers, through the appellations that are part of the French heritage, to make some of the best wines in the world.

On the contrary, by delaying necessary reforms and returning to organoleptic analysis, a procedure whose limits and deficiencies have been amply demonstrated, we will go back to the rule of mediocrity which constitutes a profound injustice towards winemakers that defend viticulture of terroir.

The reform being prepared today should only concern the segment of IGP wines in France, in other words the “vin de pays” plus bulk wines, and even for these wines the procedures are deficient.

If nothing is done soon to voluntarily define and impose specifications for what constitutes a terroir wine, an AOP in the language of the imminent EU regulation, then this reform will crush terroir winemakers and force them to define their own rules and their own marketing in order to survive.

While hoping that the spirit of reform can be maintained, Marc Parcé suggests reading two documents, also published on
Assessing French appellations: do AOCs today bear any relation to what their creators imagined?
Freeing the taste of AOC wines from the shackles of “organoleptic profiling”

At Sève we are working for a renaissance of appellations, not to bury them

Marc Parcé, Banyuls, 22 august 2007

: aoc, reform, Wine