New French wine appellations unhelpful, say critics

By Chris Mercer in Languedoc Roussillon

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Terroir French wine Languedoc wine

French wine authorities have been criticised for creating three
more appellation contrôlée wine areas at a time when France is
trying to simplify its wine offering to consumers.

Authorities have granted Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status to the wine areas of Orléans, Orléans Cléry and Chaume.

The move was intended to recognise the quality and specific character of wine produced in these areas, theoretically helping winemakers there to boost sales.

Some in the industry warned, however, the decision was not helpful for France as it battled to reconnect foreign consumers with its wine. The country already has more than 460 AOC wine regions, leaving even French consumers perplexed at what to buy.

"France's wine industry often operates at different speeds with little co-ordination or coherence,"​ said Jean Clavel, head of the Coteaux Languedoc AOC region.

"This decision by INAO is the fruit of 10 years of work by different committees. The wine world moves at the speed of the internet and this decision seems to me to be completely out-dated."

Clavel's Coteaux Languedoc AOC has just received clearance to swallow up several others in the region, as part of a long-term plan to place the whole of Languedoc under one AOC.

The idea has garnered support from the French government, which said in its national wine strategy this year that larger, regional AOCs could help demystify the system for consumers.

Debate over how France can combat falling market share in wine export markets has re-ignited old disputes about the worth of the AOC system, however.

Many believe the AOC, created in 1935 as a quality control strategy, must change if it is to help French wine compete.

Jean Huillet, head of the General Assembly of Winemakers, has consistently called for an overhaul. "We have to stop saying that AOC will save us. We must produce products to attract specific consumers and we must explain where the wine is from,"​ he said at a conference earlier this year.

The AOC system has never completely won France's wine industry in all its 70-year history. Many quality wine producers have opted out because of the strict rules it places upon them.

The system dictates much about how wine in a particular area can be made, even setting specific dates for when vines can and cannot be watered. The amount of paperwork and extra cost this brings is a constant grumble for winemakers involved.

Critics argue this rigidity has damaged France by preventing quality French wines from reacting quickly enough to shifting consumer demand.

Jean Clavel said while AOC status was important, it did not appear to be vital for France's Languedoc Roussillon wine region to seduce new consumers.

Languedoc boasts France's largest vins de pays brand, Vins De Pays d'OC, which now exports more wine than Bordeaux. "Vins de Pays d'OC is closer to international winemaking standards than the AOC Coteaux Languedoc,"​ said Clavel, adding that winemakers often produced both on the same vineyard.

French agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau has warned against rejecting the AOC. "The AOC particularly is at a cross-roads, but we must not forget that France can only protect its market position with quality assurance."

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