Appellation and terroir is the only way to cope with the 'hurricane' of the global wine glut, appellations chief René Renou said yesterday.

‘We have no choice,’ Renou, national president of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, told a press conference at the French Embassy in London.

He said the global wine glut was ‘a hurricane’ headed towards us, which would hit in two to three years. The world will be flooded with varietally-labelled wine and the only way to compete will be to rely on the unique brand proposition that is terroir. ‘We must claim that right to be unique, to be specific. There are thousands of Chardonnays but there is only one wine from Bonnezeaux.’

Renou’s mission is to convince a – sometimes sceptical – world of the value of the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) system. Admitting there has been ‘huge criticism’ of the INAO in the past, he believes the only way forward for French wine is in the purity of terroir.

‘The concept of appellation is really an extraordinarily modern vision but we have let it drift,’ he said, adding it was essential to enforce the rules rather than change them or dilute them. And he is set against the idea that cépage – grape variety – is the way forward.

Australians and Americans may successfully label their wines by grape variety but that is no way to treat French wine. Its soul is terroir – the unique interaction of soil, climate and topography that is impossible to reproduce. ‘If you need to mention variety it means you don’t understand terroir.’

Renou’s reliance on appellation – and his often-repeated mantra that it was an ‘act of faith’ to believe in it, especially when faced with the overwhelming success of New World wines – led one member of the audience to accuse him of producing ‘an elegant – and uniquely French – instrument of surrender.’

He agreed that the AOC system could only have been produced in France. But he stressed that he did not mean to rail against competition – it was not a question of New World equals bad and Old World equals good.

‘Of course we are talking about a French philosophy – wine is an element of the French soul. The New World is finding new answers to its own problems, and culturally and philosophically we are putting another choice forward. Our system can cohabit with other systems.’

Written by Adam Lechmere1 March 2002