A friend recently asked me about the history of French appellations and growing prohibitions. Specifically, she asked, “Why do the French care so much about what grapes are grown in what regions? Why is Pinot Noir, for example, the only red wine grape that can be grown in the Burgundy region? Isn’t that a bit obsessive? Where do all these rules come from?” I used these questions as an excuse to do a series on French wine laws. This article is focused on the background. Future articles will delve into the laws and their implications, along with recent trends.
Setting the Stage
Wine has been grown in France for thousands of years. For most of that time, any grapes could be planted anywhere, and any wine could be made anywhere. The results for the most part were mediocre wines.
How did France go from the mediocre free for all of yore to what it has today, a high quality, nonflexible system?
The Origins of French Wine Laws: Introducing AOC
In 1935, the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) was created with the mission of setting up the AOC system (French Appellation d’Origine Controlee system).
The AOC system encompassed laws that defined grape growing regions and protected the quality of wines. The AOC appears to have been intended to redeem France’s wine reputation and set structured protocol for quality and consistency within the French wine market.
The End Result
Everything is controlled, from the grapes used to the yield per hectare to the vineyard and winemaking practices.
In her wonderful book The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil writes, “While the system has been a model for wine-producing countries around the world, it has also been criticized for being too rigid and a major barrier to creativity.”
I think this is a great ending for Part 1 of this very rich story. I look forward to sharing more information in subsequent posts.
I would love to hear your thoughts about the origins of AOC.
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine job opportunity, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
Betty Kaufman, WineShop At Home
Hi Betty, this is really great! Thanks for taking on my question! I do have a question/comment back to you. Your intriguing blog post is the first & sum total of my knowledge of the AOC. That said, here’s what I’m wondering. Why were the wines considered mediocre? I mean, did the French establish their wine reputation between 1935 and today? I don’t think so, because I have seen in literature everywhere even from the 1700s, people extolling the great Fr. wines. Soooo . . . did wine manufacturing equipment improve? How about farming techniques? I look forward to your next installments, because I’m still skeptical about why someone would decide that Fr. wine growers needed to be controlled. Thanks again! And thanks for clarifying some of my misconceptions about Muscat.
More great questions that I will incorporate into future blog posts. I think the long and short of it was that French wine was all over the map – some great, some good, some not so good, some bad. The industry was concerned about reputation and thought that laws to help improve French wine would go a long way.