Worldbeat – wine industry – Brief Article

Larry Walker

France has been losing market share for several years to so-called New World wines–Australia, California, Chile and now South Africa. Critics both within and outside France say that the rigidity of the French Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) system makes it difficult for France to compete when wine consumers around the world are making choices based on grape variety rather than origin.

Recently, one of France’s top wine bureaucrats made a passionate plea for the AOC system and for a reliance on terroir as the only way to save France from the growing world wine glut. Rene Renou, national president of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, the agency that looks after the French AOC system, called a press conference in the French embassy in London to rail against varietally labeled wines.

The only way to compete, he said, will be to rely on terroir, in fact to treat terroir as a brand. “We must claim that right to be unique, to be specific. There are thousands of Chardonnays, but there is only one wine from Bonnezeaux.”

Renou admitted that Australians and Americans have successfully marketed their wines by grape variety, but he insisted that French wine is a unique interaction of soil, climate and topography that is impossible to imitate. He said that if the varietal had to be put on the bottle, it was a setback for the concept of terroir.

Renou’s reliance on appellation–and his often-repeated mantra that it was an “act of faith” to believe in it, especially when faced with the overwhelming success of New World wines–led one member of the audience to accuse him of producing “an elegant, and uniquely French, instrument of surrender,” according to

“Of course we are talking about a French philosophy–wine is an element of the French soul,” reported. “The New World is finding new answers to its own problems, and culturally and philosophically we are putting another choice forward. Our system can cohabitate with other systems.”

Major Scandal in Bordeaux

Elsewhere in France, the AOC system is, in a sense, at the base of a new wine scandal that is rocking Bordeaux and getting wide coverage in the European press. The Observer in London called it the worst scandal in 20 years.

Police recently raided a dozen chateaux and seized documents in a far-reaching anti-fraud operation. The raids coincided with the opening of the trial of Jacques Hemmer, a wine distributor, who allegedly sold thousands of bottles of Bordeaux under false names and vintages, diluting the real Bordeaux with wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Hemmer could face 18 months in prison. Six Bordeaux wine dealers, who were his customers, have also been charged.

However, the new scandal involves a Belgian company with vineyards in the southwest of France. It seems wines from the company’s vineyards in that area were being shipped to Bordeaux and sold as Bordeaux AOC wines. If true, the new scandal is similar to a case in the 1970s when growers used cheap wine from the South of France to increase the alcohol content of their “Bordeaux” wines.

According to reports, the Belgian company has been selling falsely labeled Margaux and Petrus outside France. Investigators said the inquiry could take months as some 20 wine companies seemed to be involved in the fraud.

Not Your Usual Chardonnay

The 2001 Kim Crawford New Zealand Chardonnay is not only unoaked (it says so right on the label) but closed with a screwcap. It is believed to be the first New Zealand Chardonnay with a screwcap sold in the United States.

Winery owner and winemaker, Kim Crawford, says, “I think American consumers, especially younger wine drinkers, are finally ready to accept that wine with screwtops can be of higher quality than wine with corks.” Crawford points out that food trends indicate convenience and versatility will be critical concerns for consumers in 2002 and that screwtops mitigate the fears. “The bottles open quickly and easily without a special tool,” he says.

Crawford is one of approximately 20 New Zealand winemakers who have banded together and pledged to use screwtops on their premium varietal wines. Their overriding concern is wine quality, not the obsolete belief that screwtops automatically denote cheap wine.

(For a more detailed report on the new Kim Crawford Chardonnay and other Kim Crawford wines, see the current WineBar at

New Frescobaldi Wine Planned

Tuscan producer Marchesi de’Frescobaldi has bought a 300-acre estate on the West Coast of Tuscany called Vigneti di Nugola. Prior to the purchase, the Frescobaldis owned nine estates in other areas of Tuscany with a total of about 2,500 acres of vineyards.

The Frescobaldi family is best known in the U.S. for its joint venture with Robert Mondavi to make super Tuscan reds, Luce and Lucente.

The plan for Vigneti di Nugola is to produce a wine blended from Bordeaux varietals to sell for under $20 a bottle. According to a Frescobaldi spokesman, the wine will be “lightly oaked.”

COPYRIGHT 2002 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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