Revolutionary plans that would allow producers to step outside the strict Appellation Controllée laws have been submitted to the French government by senior wine professionals.

The plan is for a new French wine category called ‘Cepage de France’ (varieties of France), under which producers would be able to produce varietal wines with around 80% of a chosen grape variety (100% is currently required), and use oak chips (currently banned).

Region or commune – for example Margaux or Chablis, expressing France’s precious ‘terroir’ – would not appear on the label.

The idea was put forward two months ago, and was reiterated last night by Jean-Marie Chadronnier, president of major negociant CVBG Dourthe-Kressman, at the French Wine Awards in London.

Drastic measures to relax the AC laws are urgently needed to help French producers compete with the New World, Chadronnier said.

‘French wine must be made simple. We will keep our terroir wines, but the varietal wines are the style that the consumer is comfortable with. We must give the consumer what they want.

‘It is very simple: we are currently not playing by the same rules as the New World. It is as though we are playing them at rugby but we have opted to use one hand against their two. France is constraining itself under rules that are of no interest to many consumers.’

This plan, drawn up by Cap 2010, a group of seven industry leaders headed by oenologist Jacques Berthomeau, and including Chardronnier, Languedoc producer Robert Skalli, supermarket moguls Pierre Mirc and Jean Louis Vallet-Carrefour, and producers Pierre Aguilas of Anjou and Jean Louis Pithon of Luberon, was submitted to the Minister of Agriculture two months ago.

Cap 2010 was set up by Berthoemeau last year as a steering committee to advise on implementation of measures needed to improve the French wine industry and halt its loss of market share to New World wines.

But Chadronnier admitted he wasn’t certain of success: ‘While most of the industry is aware of the urgency, some people can be very traditional. It is a difficult fight as some people won’t accept a solution until they are in a very bad situation. It is not going to solve everything but at least it will put France back in the international game at this level.’

On the bright side, Chadronnier pointed out that France with its complexity and terroir is still very good at making fine wine, and holds on to 43% of the UK on-trade market in that category.

Written by Catharine Lowe18 October 2002