The French agriculture minister yesterday ducked the controversial issue of wood chips in a speech to open Vinitech.

Dominique Bussereau, speaking on the first day of Vinitech, the world’s largest wine techniques and machinery trade fair, said he welcomed the modernisation of French wine but made no mention of the divisive issue of wood chips, recently banned for use in AOC winemaking.

‘The state encourages the modernisation of the French system of wine segmentation, in order to adapt to evolving consumer demand,’ Bussereau said. ‘The aim is to conserve our leadership.’

‘What he didn’t say,’ a Bordeaux winemaker observed, ‘was anything about wood chips or the decision to ban them.’

The French government had tried in a recent report to encourage openness about the use of wood chips outside the AOC system – and also possibly within it.

But the use of chips in AOC winemaking was banned by the French AOC regulatory body, INAO, earlier this month – two months after the EU finally legalised their use.

At the time a disappointed Roland Feredj, director of Bordeaux’s regional wine body, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB), said the decision basically meant French winemakers did not have the same rights as their competitors.

He also pointed out the ambiguity of the new ruling, which will still allow appellations, four of them in Bordeaux, to ‘experiment’ with chips.

Prior to the ruling seven appellations Anjou, Muscadet, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Medoc, Haut-Médoc and Côtes du Rhône were granted special dispensations, allowing experimental use of wood chips as of the 2006 harvest.

Written by Sophie Kevany