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And You Wonder Why the French Have Problems...

I hope my French readers can distinguish between my criticism of the bureaucracies and intellectual quagmires that make up their ministries or trade organizations like the Grand Chais de France, and my respect and love for the people, the country, and their wine. This is important because I'm about to do some French bashing here.

Today France is considering reviving a category of wine that once existed called "Vin de Pays de France" or "Cepage de France" as a way of battling the current crisis of slumping sales that is seen across France. Cepage de France is the name for a blend of wine that's made from grapes gathered willy-nilly from all over France and blended together so that you can put a bottle on the shelf so that "We should be able to say, this is a merlot from France. Period. We shouldn't have to explain the wine to the consumer."

Uh, hello? At least in America, we call that sort of wine "plonk" and if you think that is going to do much to solve your problems, I think the very idea proves how out of touch with the wine drinking world you are.

And in case you haven't noticed, folks, some of your winegrowers are blowing shit up and killing people in your country, and something like this is going to go over about as well as Mondavi buying up the whole country.

The solution to the problem is not to water down the wine, it's to water down the stupid regulations that prevent people from marketing wine like the rest of the world.

OK. Now I'll go do my deep breathing exercises and calm down. Read the whole story at Decanter.

Comments (41)

mph wrote:
06.23.05 at 10:50 AM

How does a VdP de France differ from the currently-available VdP d'Oc? (Maybe if I knew what an Oc was, the answer would be obvious. Google translates it as "local wine of oc." Thanks, Google!)

HugeJ wrote:
06.23.05 at 11:57 AM


I only skimmed the Decanter article, but unless I missed something, I totally disagree with your assessment! Having a generic category of wine from France (whatever they ultimately call it) will actually solve many of the problems! As evidence, I point to the success of Fat Bastard and Red Bicyclette. These Languedoc wines are being sold successfully as BRANDS, something France has been unable or unwilling to develop on their own. Where the wine comes from is not the focus, clever marketing and wine made to the target consumer's liking are the keys here.

To dismiss generic varietal wine as "plonk" is fine, but remember that France already makes millions of gallons of wine that is indistinguishable from what you called California "plonk". Its there (in their equivalent to our Central Valley), and will be there (in huge oversupply) every year unless they can find a way to sell it. Here in California, we already do that (Peter Vella, Almaden, Talus, Charles Shaw, etc.) and by making this change, the French will be able to (potentially) solve some of their problems with the low-end wines. Plonk brands aren't sexy and don't make good blog copy, but they're a reality for the vast majority of wine consumers.

Remember, all countries make wine in the shape of a quality pyramid (lots of "plonk" and just a sprinkling of first growth/cult wines, etc.) but the bottom of the pyramid only gets attention when things like riots happen, not because somebody has some tasting notes for it!


Alder wrote:
06.23.05 at 12:11 PM


What good will having this wine be (plonk or not) if they continue to have rules preventing anyone from marketing it like a brand ?!? There may be very little difference between Yellowtail and what sort of wine they are proposing to make under this new agreement in France, but the biggest problem is not that heretofore they haven't been able to make wine like this, the biggest problem is that the powers that be don't understand what is necessary to market and sell wine (of any kind) to the broader world. Witness the ferocious battle about the "obscene" photograph that was going to be used to market Sauternes.

This is my point. Not that the generic category of wine is a bad idea, but thinking this will really help is like giving food to bear stuck in a trap. Sure it might keep the bear alive longer, but the bear is never going to live unless you get the leg out of the iron teeth.


HugeJ wrote:
06.23.05 at 1:16 PM

Alder, my assumption was that the new category would create wines called "French Merlot" (for example) and that they could be branded like vins de table. Perhaps a national vin de pays would not allow branding, but I thought Kessler's comments implied that would be the case....

Agree with what you are saying then, put brands and varietals on French wine and it will compete again.


Sally wrote:
06.24.05 at 10:19 AM

Speaking of Red Bicyclette, they're having this ridiculous contest to send three people to the South of France. I just entered on their website www.redbicyclette.com.

HugeJ wrote:
06.24.05 at 11:05 AM


Any visitors from EJGallo.com at 10:19am this morning?

Alder wrote:
06.24.05 at 11:10 AM

Heh heh. Everyone who is not a corporate marketing plant, please stand up.

They sen't me an e-mail a few weeks ago suggesting I do a whole story for my readers on what a fabulous contest this is. Gotta love seven figure marketing budgets.

HugeJ wrote:
06.24.05 at 11:20 AM

You're a victim of your own traffic. You should give them some ad space along the margin for a fee as 'ridiculous' as their contest.


Anonymous wrote:
06.24.05 at 5:46 PM

Speaking of EJ Gallo and the evil empire.... rumor has it southern wine & spirits is using ABC investigators to harrass stores in the east bay if they don't buy product. If this isn't fascism, i don't know what is? So their you have it, corruption on both ends of the spectrum.

Anonymous wrote:
06.24.05 at 6:06 PM

Who knew, who controls the bureaucracy(Um, EJGallo/Southern Wine)?

This is life, but according to Hunuees (Quintessa) the 'wine industry' is a perfect marriage for family business (ie wineries) and corporations to coexist. The families promote 'family' and the corporations make the money b/c idiot america still thinks they only produce 10,000 cases per year.....I guess this is a good thing after all, what you don't know, what you walk away with (that feeling) is worth $$.
"It's like sunshine, in a bag"

Terry Hughes wrote:
06.24.05 at 6:18 PM

Oh my, these polemical comments sound like
Italian and French blogs these days...let's clog the marketing dept's mailboxes at the Red bicyclette site or, better yet, enter the contest for real. I sure as hell would like to get away from
First Avenue for a while--at the Evil
Wine Empire's expense.

Anonymous wrote:
06.24.05 at 7:03 PM

How about we all enter the contest and then divide the prize up between everyone who gave it a go? This way, we would each get about a half- crank on the red bicyclette....oh i don't no, probably get us at least to second ave?

(before the wretched aftertaste creeps back onto the pallete and is quickly jetisoned from the mouth and onto the pavement)

Alder wrote:
06.24.05 at 7:24 PM

I'd love to know who actually wins these prizes. Here's a free dot.com business idea for anyone who wants it: therealwinners.com. A web site that tracks down the real people who win these big sweepstakes prizes and lists them, so that we know once and for all that they actually get won by someone...

Alder wrote:
06.24.05 at 7:35 PM


Sorry for the delay in answering your question. And a good one it is.

Vin de pays is a generic term for what might be called a "country wine." It’s an official designation which demonstrates that the wine is from some particular locality, and is therefore theoretically superior to Vin de table, or "table wine."

Vin de pays d'Oc is short for Vin de pays d'Languedoc, and the Languedoc is a large wine producing region in the Southeast of France.

There are currently three levels of Vin de Pays, starting at the most broadly regional, like the Languedoc, some that are labeled by "department" which is a sub region within an area like the Languedoc, and some that are labeled by the "locality" which is a specific village or area within a region.

Simple, no?

So then in answer to your question, VdP de France would be an even more generic wine above the current regional VdP's and it would have the added bonus of being able to be labeled with the varietal, which the current VdP's cannot be.

Gotta love those French regulations.

Alder wrote:
06.29.05 at 12:42 PM

The French are obviously not oblivious to the fact that they have issues. Here's a report on a speech by the head of the appellation organization talking about the problems with the current system.

Terry Hughes wrote:
06.29.05 at 6:48 PM

Appellations and so forth aside, why hasn't the issue of EXCHANGE RATES entered into our dialogues? At least as far as the US market goes, it may be that many of the problems arise from a lousy quality/value ratio, which a weaker euro or stronger dollar could improve?

Alder wrote:
06.30.05 at 8:33 AM

Ah yes, this is an issue, and a definite factor in the current sales situation, but not the root of the problem. I'm pretty sure sales of French wine started dropping long before the Euro was even around, let alone as strong as it is.

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