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Vins de Pays de France – varietal wines

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The lumbering machine that is French bureaucracy is due to decide on 24 January 2007 on the creation of a new category of varietal wines – “Vin des Pays de France“, or “Vin de Pays des Vignobles de France” or even “Vins des vallées de France”. The ruling will allow for single variety wines to be made using the same grapes from up to 4 different regions of France – the bottle label will show the grape variety but not the geographical origin.
This is supposedly to counter the marketing success of New World branded wines, and as with the recently lauched “Vin de Pays de l’Atlantique” it offers the potential to make some good blends which are not currently allowed – e.g. balancing the voluptuousness of a hot Languedoc Sauvignon with the fresh crispness of one from the cooler Loire Valley.
However, Vin de Pays d’Oc from the Languedoc has been very successful and has become almost a “brand” in its own right, whilst retaining an admittedly large geographical identity.To my mind the image of bulk wines being transported across France and blended and bottled in industrial-scale wineries is not an attractive one. Nevertheless that is the reality in much of the New World, and even in parts of France – despite the clever marketing campaigns that try to conjour up the illusion of horny-handed craftsmen making wine with love and passion in some bucolic setting.
More importantly to my mind, it is the labelling on French AOC wines which is the biggest barrier to successfully competing with the New World. We know that France can and does produce wines which can beat most New World wines at any price level. And whilst some of the French wine laws seem unneccesarily restrictive, they do offer the consumer some guarantee of both provenance and content – we can be confident that no artificial flavourings or other unknown addidtives are added to French wines to make them more “grapefruity” or even the reds “sweeter”. But, labelling restrictions on identifying grape varieties mean that consumers will avoid what most see as “obscure” French wines and take the easier route to a bottle with a funky label and straightforward message – which will almost always be “New World”. The French do love to imbue their wines with history, mystique and a certain aloofness – all of which is fine but only of any use if you can get the consumer to buy the bottle in the first place.
However, c’est la vie! – the French would not be French if they were not so infuriating, and it is these same traits which make France such a wonderful source of great food and wine. So, no I really do not want to change the French into some efficient marketing machine driven by spin and efficiency – but I do worry that global brands will continue to squeeze small-scale, idisyncratic but wonderful producers of quality wine and food.

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