In my first four articles in my series on French wine laws, I gave the background of the French AOC system, reviewed the laws, and talked about some downsides. The good news is that these downsides appear to be causing France to loosen up some of their wine laws. Could France be moving from Old World to New World?
We will explore that here. But let’s start by talking about one of France’s biggest challenges: French wine sales are on the decline worldwide. Several factors are at play. First, consumers appear to like the friendlier approach offered by New World wine labels, where you can see what wine is in the bottle. Second, many consumers seem to enjoy what the French consider to be the simplistic fruit-forward wines of the New World. Third, the French wine laws are restricting creativity to the point where some French wines are, dare I say it, boring.
The good news is that, in the last five years, France has begun to make some changes to their wine laws. According to Charles Bremner’s Paris weblog, “After long scorning the international appetite for ‘vulgar’ wine, France joined the fray… and allowed growers to make and market their product in the fruity fashion of the New World.” Okay, that doesn’t quite mean that France has moved away from the Old World. But they look like they are ready to be more flexible.
So what do the new laws look like? Well, I wish I could give you a precise answer. Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive website with all the information. I read many different websites and got many different tidbits of information. At a high level, here is what I found.
The new laws still feature three quality tiers:
- AOP – The new top tier is called AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protegee). Besides the name change from AOC, virtually nothing else has changed. All of the stringent AOC requirements remain in place. The singular focus on terroir continues to be at the heart of this designation.
- IGP – The new second tier is called IGP (Indication Geographique Protegee). While terroir still plays a key role with this designation, its central role has declined, due to greatly reduced requirements. For example, winemakers are no longer beholden to the varietal restrictions per appellation. They can choose from any varietals. They can also blend grapes grown in two or more regions. And they can state the grape variety on the label.
- Vignobles de France – The new third tier is called Vignobles de France, which means “Wines from France”. This designation incorporates all wines that do not fall into the other two categories and has no geographical indication at all. Some winemakers in this third tier have gone as far as inventing “critter labels” to compete with the likes of Australia’s Yellow Tail wines. A French Languedoc wine sold 1.3 million bottles to Australia last year under the brand of Arrogant Frog. Like it or not, critter labels sell ☺
I’m excited to learn more about the changes to the French wine laws and am eager to see their long term impact. If you’ve already noticed some changes, I would love for you to share your observations here.