The Appellation System

  • Over the past century, French wine laws have been an evolving body of legislation that have proven essential in adding value for growers and reasonably effective in protecting the consumer from fraud. It is important to note these laws guarantee the origin of wines, but not their quality. Wines are broken down in to levels depending on the specificity of the origin of the grapes. These levels are Vin de Table, Vins de Pays and AOC. Some regions are even more site-specific and have assigned crus to top regions of production.

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  • Vin de Table is the most basic level and has very few restrictions. The production of Vin de Table has been steadily declining, due to laws that mandate distillation of a given percentage of juice after a production ceiling of 100 hl/ha. Vins de Table account for about 20% of French production annually.

    Vin de Pays
    Vin de Pays was created to distinguish well-made "country wine" from Vin de Table, and is given a general regional appellation. The restrictions on the varieties of grapes that can be planted, the methods that can be used in the vineyards, and the yields are more relaxed than for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), but more stringent than Vin de Table. Vins de Pays account for about a third of French production by volume.

    Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) is the highest level of French wine, with the most stringent definitions of wine regions, grape varieties, yields and permitted techniques. AOC wines account for only about 57% of the surface area in France, but generate 80% of the revenue for the industry.

    Many regions have further classifications within the AOC level that are referred to broadly as crus or growths. Some systems, like that of Bordeaux, have no definition in AC legislation yet are widely recognized and commercially important.

    In Burgundy, a heirarchy of Regional/Commune/Premier Cru/Grand Cru is defined by the INAO, and is vital to understanding Burgundy. Here, according to the Bureau Interprofessionnel de Vins de Bourgogne or BIVB, 54.5% of the wine is regional or sub-regional (i.e. Bourgogne Rouge or Mâcon Villages), 34% is Communal (with the name of the village attached, such as Pommard). 10% of the wine is Premier Cru, labeled with the village name and the name of the parcel or climat (i.e. Volnay Premier Cru Caillerets). These superior climats are defined by the INAO on the basis of differences in terroir. A final 1.5% is Grand Cru, labeled with just the vineyard name (i.e. Le Montrachet or Le Musigny).

    In other regions, such as Alsace, a system of ranking the terroir is in place, but carries less weight.

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