The French INAO (Institut Nationale des Appellations d’Origine) is introducing squads of ‘vine police’ to step up quality and quantity control.

In an attempt to ensure growers respect yields and production regulations, the INAO and its affiliated unions are sending out squads of three officers, one representing the ministry of agriculture, one administrator from the appellation, and one from the commune itself. They will tour the parcelles offering advice and ensuring proper care is being taken of the plants.

Although the growers are under no obligation to allow the squads onto their land, the appellation law states that anyone blocking the controllers risk the loss of their right to the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlé) status.

The patrols started last week, although they will not be seen on the ‘grand crus’, as the INAO is content with their quality control. The organisation is aiming more at the lower levels of the appellation.

René Renou, head of the INAO, wants to ensure winemakers are deserving of their status.

‘It is indispensable that winemakers respect the appellation…it’s a moral obligation,’ he said.

According to Renou, the patrols will be manned and financed by the ‘syndicat’ – the appellation union. Although he said that some producers were by no means happy about the idea, others in France see this as an individual move towards terroir as opposed to the business-style marketing of new world wines.

Xavier Copel, head of Primo Platinum wines in the South of France pointed out that this was, in fact, more of a policing policy than a marketing one. He pointed out that many growers are over-producing and making low-quality wines, but their produce is being consistently accepted by the appellation.

‘Only about 2-3% are being refused,’ he said, ‘this is having a terrible effect on the quality of the appellation wines.’

Even if the ‘vine police’ have a lot of persuading power, copinage (cronyism) is rife inside the appellation system and industry insiders remain sceptical as to the practicality of the plan.

‘The idea is a good one but putting it into action is another matter,’ said Copel.

Written by Oliver Styles