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Row breaks out as Burgundy fears invasion from Beaujolais

Burgundy winemakers are up in arms over fears that a flood of white wine from Beaujolais will threaten their reputation and commercial future.

In an incendiary press release, the Syndicat des Bourgognes, the Burgundy winemakers’ union, has accused Burgundy’s generic representative body – the BIVB – of acting against the interests of its members.

They highlight the BIVB’s increasing co-operation with its Beaujolais counterpart, and a non-committal attitude toward addressing long-outstanding questions about labelling and planting limits.

‘Beaujolais has started to plant more and more Chardonnay, which is not a problem if they call it Beaujolais Blanc,’ said Guillaume Willette, director of the union.

‘But they are starting to call it Bourgogne Blanc (white Burgundy) and we are afraid the amount of Bourgogne Blanc from Beaujolais will continue to grow and this would be bad for Burgundy.’

The crux of the matter is the 70-year-old appellation labelling law that allows Chardonnay from Beaujolais to be called Bourgogne Blanc – alongside Chardonnay from the Burgundy’s Mâconnais, Côte d’Or and Côte Chalonnaise.

‘Historically, very little Chardonnay has been vinified in Beaujolais,’ said Willette.

‘But the economic crisis has encouraged the growers there to plant more and more –200 hectares this year alone. ‘

Willette says the BIVB has downplayed repeated requests – ‘going back at least seven years’- to address planting limits (for both regions) and other anomalies that date to the early 20th century, including the tradition of calling some Gamay wine (the 10 Beaujolais village ‘crus’) Bourgogne Rouge.

‘We want them to review many unresolved issues,’ he said.

‘And until they do, we want Beaujolais to stop calling their white wine Bourgogne Blanc. Ultimately, we would also like a re-examination of the permission to call wine that is not from Pinot Noir Bourgogne Rouge.’

In response, the BIVB postponed its planned 20th anniversary celebration and issued a rejoinder.

Sources close to the BIVB said the union’s concerns about Bourgogne Blanc are valid but its methods – and its demand that the issue of Bourgogne Rouge be raised – are unreasonable and deleterious, particularly in a time of crisis.

The matter is now in the hands of the INAO, the French organisation responsible for appellation matters. Both parties hope for a response before harvest.

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Written by Maggie Rosen

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