Alsace vintners have reacted with outrage at proposals to remove varietals from wine labels.

Since March 2005, the INAO has given Alsace producers the option not to indicate grapes used for grand cru wines. Before, all grand cru Alsace wines were required to list grape variety on the label.

Now vintners are convinced the next move will be to make varietal labelling illegal. That would be a ‘catastrophe’, they say.

An open letter signed by 200 vintners, and drafted by such renowned winemakers as Laurence Faller of Domaine Weinbach, Olivier Humbrecht of Domaine Zind Humbrecht and Pierre Trimbach of Maison Trimbach, late last month told the Alsace Viticultural Association such a reform would confuse consumers.

‘It goes without saying that indicating the varietal brings essential comprehension to the consumer,’ the letter said. ‘The future of Alsatian viticulture is at stake. Too many points are not being addressed.’

But AVA director Frederic Bach told decanter.com, ‘We are not forcing anyone to do anything. The debate has just started.’

The 51 grands crus could each put forward their proposals, he said.

AVA ‘grand cru section president’ Jean Michel Deiss, who is well known for his grands cru wines without varietal indication on the front label, came under heavy criticism during an AVA general assembly meeting this month to discuss the letter, according to news reports.

Deiss – who did not return calls or answer messages – was criticised for ‘authoritarian methods’ according to a 2 July article in Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, a regional French newspaper.

Deiss reportedly told general assembly participants that he does not want to impose his methods on other winemakers. Many disagree.

Laurence Faller said, ‘It is fine that Deiss makes his wines the way he wants to, but such methods should not be imposed on the rest of us.’

Retailers agree with the letter. ‘It would be like removing an important part of the story,’ Stuart Rae, sales associate for Berry Bros. & Rudd told decanter.com. ‘Buyers are big fans of the varietal nature of Alsace wine.’

Mark Wessels of MacArthur Beverages in Washington DC asked, ‘How would customers know the difference between Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Zind Humbrecht and Gewurztraminer Clos Windsbuhl Zind Humbrecht?’

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Written by Panos Kakaviatos in Strasbourg