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Massive AOC shake-up proposed

Appellations president Rene Renou is planning revolutionary changes to the French wine laws as a cure for the ‘hangover’ winemakers are suffering from.

Speaking at a food forum at Oxford’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons restaurant on Sunday, the president of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) told delegates his proposals would be the first wholesale revision of the laws since they were instituted in 1935.

Renou blamed French wines’ current malaise on increased competition from ever-improving New World Wines as well as the continued popularity of Spanish and Italian wines, all if which have led to a worldwide surplus.

In order to regain market share lost to more accessible, varietally-labelled New World wines, ‘France must find a system such that the label tells you exactly and honestly what’s in the bottle.’

‘French winemakers have a hangover,’ he said, adding that it could no longer rely on the romantic history of the great chateaux to sell its wine: ‘Beautiful stories are not enough.’

It is time to overhaul the AOC in order to make the French appellation system clearer to consumers, he went on. The current laws have not been changed since 1935 – when France enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the wine world.

Renou is proposing the creation of two tiers of French wine. The standard AOC and a new AOCE. The standard AOC, like the current appellation d’origine controlee, will guarantee the wine comes from grapes grown in a specific place.

The proposed AOCE (appellation d’origine controlee d’excellence) conferred on the basis of tastings, will go further by guaranteeing the wine reaches a standard degree of excellence.

While current AOC regulations require wines to be tasted to ensure declared grape varietals and place of origin, Renou admitted the system is plagued by cronyism. As the tastings tend to be held locally, wine is evaluated by friends and neighbours of the producer. He says this will not be the case for the proposed AOCE.

Paul Levy, one of the delegates at the forum told decanter.com, ‘the panellists (who included Tim Atkin MW and Nicholas Faith), were gobsmacked by the proposals.’

Written by Kerin O’Keefe

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