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04.27.2005

The Appellation System is Meaningless?

This belongs in the "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" category of silly panel findings and institute resolutions. According to a news item in Decanter Magazine this morning, it seems that European Confederation of Independent Winemakers (CEVI), whoever they are, has decided that the system of appellations govering most European winegrowing and winemaking operations is doing more harm than good. "Three quarters of all wine produced in Europe now bears a specific geographic reference. The more this happens, the more devalued it becomes, and the less consumers want to pay for it."

Whoa.

Yeah, whenever I actually find out where a wine is from, I automatically want to pay a lot less for it.

It's one thing to say that the apellation systems have issues -- they're too restrictive in terms of winegrowing practices, draconian in their restrictions on labeling and naming, and weighed down by the now-meaningless baggage of royalty, prestige, and false connotations of quality -- but that doesn't mean they need to be taken out behind the barn and shot.

Just in case you needed any further proof of how lame this pronouncement is, check out this quote: "We wanted to use AOC to help differentiate our offering in the New World, but now they have it too." Yes, that's right. The whole reason you came up with the idea of calling Burgundy something else than Bordeaux was to make sure that you had a marketing edge on California wines. And yes, it's a sad day now that Sonoma county has sub-appellations, because it means that Savennieres and Sancerre really just don't mean the same thing they used to.

Where do they find these people!? And how do they get them to say such funny things?

This group was formed to lobby the EU regarding its winemaking laws. Let's hope that there are also some voices of reason there among the madmen.

Comments (7)

Geoff Smith wrote:
04.27.05 at 10:15 AM

I am in complete agreement with you, Alder. The appellation system is a positive overall, helping to clarify a wine's identity (and ideally, to prevent abuse). It has been a great improver in it's European (e.g., French, Italian, etc.) situations.

Here in California, we could learn a lesson or two from the European model. For example, in observing the appellation boundary limits in Sonoma County, an observer must remark on the apparently arbitrary 'property line' limits which ignore climatic and soil differences completely, thus rendering them in part meaningless.

Also, as long as we have wines in California labelled 'Rutherford' or 'Napa' with little or no fruit from these geographical zones, we will only continue to fool ourselves.

Alder wrote:
04.27.05 at 10:21 AM

Geoff,

I totally agree with your point about our appellations. I've ranted before about meaninglessness of the Central Coast appellation in particular which is about the size of Portugal.

Jack wrote:
04.27.05 at 2:38 PM

When you spend too much time in your cave, ridiculous things come out of your mouth. Even in the world of wine.

Hey I read somewhere that in 2007 French wineries will be allowed to do what they already do in Alsace, Germany, California, etc,...put the varietal on the label! Not till 2007, of course!

04.27.05 at 4:28 PM

Being a somewhat of a libertarian, I tend to think the appellation systems are silly and outdated. They perpetuate the snobbiness of locale, and frown upon experimentation.

I don't think that most Americans would believe how restrictive the French system is. Maybe it isn't a great idea to grow Sarah in Bordeaux (I honestly wouldn't know), but I find it surprising that it is illegal. If the wine doesn't work out, let the market decide.

The Super Tuscans are a case in point of how ridiculous it is to put such restrictions on regions.

Geoff Smith wrote:
04.28.05 at 10:11 AM

Probably depends what Sarah looks like.

Tyler wrote:
04.28.05 at 6:20 PM

Actually, the Decanter story reports that it was Patrick Aigrain who called the system meaningless, not the whole CEVI. That's good for the CEVI since they might not actually endorse such folie. But it's scary since Aigrain is the chief wine market economist at ONIVINS, the regulatory authority for French wine.

Viticulture supports terroir, the bedrock of the appellation system. Economics supports terroir since it leads to market segmentation and therefore (false) scarcity, which leads to higher prices. Aigrain is a heretic on two counts! Sacre bleu!

tom wrote:
04.29.05 at 6:33 AM

The economist is not commenting on the simple value of terroir. He's commenting on the relative value of the AOC system n terms of the added value it brings to a wine. He's saying that with more appellations on the bottles now, the value that the French appellatioins bring to a bottle of wine is less now than in the past. I'd be that's an easily quantifiable conclusion

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