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Bill Hooper

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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Bill Hooper » Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:46 pm

Oh, and while they're at it, Mouton Rothschild should be relegated 8) and Palmer elevated.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by AlexR » Sat Feb 23, 2008 5:04 am

Bill,

There are 61 great growths in the Médoc.
Is that too many?

I know Alsace wines very little. But as long as those 51 grands crus represent the best in the appellation, I have no problem with that.

All the best,
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Tim York » Sat Feb 23, 2008 5:54 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Keith M wrote:So "small, less-known properties" depend on a "tiny, obscure appellation" to sell their wines? Could anyone explain to me why this would be so? It seems like a curious argument . . .

In my opinion, it's because a niche market exists for small-production, artisanal producers. Importers like Dressner and Solomon feed retailers like Chambers Street who serve a relatively small audience of wine geeks like us. It's not a very big sector of the overall wine market - there are an awful lot of Kendall-Jackson, Rosemount and Duboeuf drinkers out there - but the producers don't make that much wine, so they've found their level.

I'm speculating - and only speculating - that the loss of a distinguishing label would weaken this niche over time, just as the world domination of Starbucks eventually starts hurting the business of local artisan coffee roasters.


I share the same concern as Robin. There is also a specifically French aspect to consider with regard to wines in the middle "territoire" category, even if the mention of village and lieu-dit names continues to be allowed. Remember that in France people tend to be more respectful of official classifications and hierarchies than I think is the case in the USA and nowadays in Britain. There could therefore be impacts on both producers and French consumers.

Some producers seeking recognition as much as a good living could be discouraged from the arduous pursuit of quality by finding themselves in a "mediocre" appellation. And I guess that the French market remains commercially the most important for most artisan producers and these are the consumers most sensitive to classifications and hierarchies. A perceived mediocrity of the "territoire" classification could impact on non-geek French demand for outstanding cuvées in this category and serve the create a glass ceiling on the prices of ambitious producers.

The Spring tasting season will be starting in a few weeks and I will take the opportunity of sounding out various vignerons about these reforms.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Tim York » Sat Feb 23, 2008 6:52 am

Jon Peterson wrote:Next they need to tackle Burgundy and German wines - that's where I get lost.


Burgundy is affected by these reforms. Just how, in detail, remains to be seen. My confident guess is that the village appellations, grands crus and 1er crus in the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune and Chablis will be largely unchanged and, of course, in the top "terroir" tier. Outside these areas, there is a lot of potential for re-organisation. My tentative guess is that Givry, Rully, Mercurey, Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran, at least, will be in the "terroir" category. I also guess that producers of "territoire" Bourgogne etc. will want to put "Pinot Noir" and "Chardonnay" on the label; the RVF article does not state whether this is envisaged.

Germany is a different ball-game, although subject to the same overall European reforms.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Keith M » Sat Feb 23, 2008 2:52 pm

Robin Garr wrote:In my opinion, it's because a niche market exists for small-production, artisanal producers. Importers like Dressner and Solomon feed retailers like Chambers Street who serve a relatively small audience of wine geeks like us. It's not a very big sector of the overall wine market - there are an awful lot of Kendall-Jackson, Rosemount and Duboeuf drinkers out there - but the producers don't make that much wine, so they've found their level.

I'm speculating - and only speculating - that the loss of a distinguishing label would weaken this niche over time, just as the world domination of Starbucks eventually starts hurting the business of local artisan coffee roasters.

Thanks for further laying out your argument--an interesting one.

And, regarding Starbucks, another view: Don't Fear Starbucks: Why the franchise actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Sat Feb 23, 2008 7:56 pm

William wrote...we'll come to rely on specific producers much more so than general regions.

I think this is a very good point, sir. I seem to be paying a lot more time cluing up in these guys, think I am familiar with names of many appellations. Ah hum, till Robin introduced us to this new Macon one!!!
I have not been able to digest all of Tim`s info yet but I sure see some confusion on the horizon.
I see/hear newbies in my local winestore, they wanna know whats in the bottle, is it sweet or dry? Yeah here we go again!!
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Tim York » Sun Feb 24, 2008 5:04 am

Bob Parsons Alberta. wrote:William wrote...we'll come to rely on specific producers much more so than general regions.

I think this is a very good point, sir. I seem to be paying a lot more time cluing up in these guys, think I am familiar with names of many appellations. Ah hum, till Robin introduced us to this new Macon one!!!
I have not been able to digest all of Tim`s info yet but I sure see some confusion on the horizon.
I see/hear newbies in my local winestore, they wanna know whats in the bottle, is it sweet or dry? Yeah here we go again!!


Producer reputation already is and is likely to remain the most important single factor in wine choice, other than price, red or white, sweet or dry, heavy or light. My worry is that there may be a weakening of some artisan producers in the middle tier, from where I am likely to source a lot of my wine.

Difficulty of identifying sweet v dry is a big grouse of mine, particularly in Alsace, but judging by a recent Decanter article it also applies to New Zealand. For some reason most Alsatian producers seem to resist indicating the degree of sweetness of the label and I'm sure they lose sales from this, including to me. I doubt if the new rules will address this.

Another taboo in France is mention of grape varieties. They are biting this bullet in the bottom tier, but will they allow it in the upper two? I can see the argument that labeling Chablis as "chardonnay" could actually mislead the modern consumer but mention on a back label would do no harm, IMHO.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by AlexR » Sun Feb 24, 2008 7:35 am

Tim,

I am SO in agreement with you about putting grape varieties on labels!
Of major appellations, only Touraine and Alsace do this.

However, it helps tremendously!

The average consumer, even in France, is bewildered by the hundereds of wines on supermarket shelves.
Not to mention the foreigners!

The reason it is not done is the RELIGION OF TERROIR, which a vocal minority feels precludes any grape variety name, that can be copied by unfair competition
in countries that - gasp - have more sun or - heaven forbid - more than a 35 hour work week!

Some of the more modest wines would benefit greatly from being able to market their grape variety at the same time as the appellation.

Perhaps the way around this is back labels. Some New World back labels are boringly long or ridiculously lyrical. But just a few lines can help consumers a great deal.

Look at a label of Yquem: the front label is, in fact, the back label.
Such a system seems a good compromise to me.

Best regards,
Alex R.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by wnissen » Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:33 pm

AlexR wrote:The average consumer, even in France, is bewildered by the hundereds of wines on supermarket shelves.
Not to mention the foreigners!


Who will think of the foreigners? The average person on this board, who has spent dozens of hours reading various wine books, could maybe recall a hundred appellations. And we are the 1% most-educated. The average wine consumer, looking to spend less than ten bucks, probably knows three or four, and only because they've been stolen by American wine producers.

What I don't get is, how will this affect Germany? They don't really have appellations the way the French do.

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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Dale Williams » Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:42 pm

wnissen wrote:They don't really have appellations the way the French do.



Walt, they don't have the hierarchal system of vineyards like say Burgundy, but certainly have an appelation system.

I'd guess from Tim's explanation that Tafelwein and the like would be the equivalent of first tier. QbAs, Grosselage wines the midlevel. Pradikat wines the top tier. I'm sure the Germans will make it even more complicated. :)
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by William K » Mon Feb 25, 2008 4:28 pm

Tim York wrote: Producer reputation already is and is likely to remain the most important single factor in wine choice, other than price, red or white, sweet or dry, heavy or light.


Tim, first let me start by saying thanks for the great post that started this thread, and please keep us informed as new details emerge.

On the point above, I'm thinking of a scenario where I am looking at a limited restaurant wine list or am in an out-of-town wine shop and I simply do not recognize any of the producers in a given category, e.g., white Burgundy (or alternatively I do recognize a couple, but as the source of previous disappointments). I think of myself as reasonably literate on this particular category, yet I find myself in this situation probably a dozen or so times during a year. When this happens, producer reputation is of course a non-factor in wine choice, and I have to fall back on appellation and vintage. Under the current system, I believe my odds are pretty good that any 2005 AOC Borgogne is going to be a crowd-pleaser. I'd be less confident if that were extended to include Macon, and therefore less inclined to take my chances. The likely effect of this would be for me to head to what I consider to be safer ground, e.g., Rias Baixas. Encouraging me to drink more Albarino is surely not what the French have in mind.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Bill Hooper » Mon Feb 25, 2008 11:07 pm

AlexR wrote:Bill,

There are 61 great growths in the Médoc.
Is that too many?

I know Alsace wines very little. But as long as those 51 grands crus represent the best in the appellation, I have no problem with that.

All the best,
Alex R.


Alex,

I think your question dives into the very heart of the debate about Grands Crus all over France and throughout Europe. One question that arises has been in constant debate over the years: Does Bordeaux or does Burgundy have a superior system of classification? Bordeaux is of course different from both Alsace and Burgundy in that there is a hierarchy in place within the Grands Crus from Premier Grands Crus all the way to 5th Growth. Of the 61, only 5 are ranked Premiers Grands Crus (8%). The percentage is infinitely lower when you take into consideration all of the wine produced in Bordeaux. As such, 61 may not be too many in the case of Bordeaux. I would however, favor re-evaluation from time to time (much like in St-Emilion, but with more meaning.) The idea of Terroir is a bit different in Bordeaux in that individual properties are rewarded more for historical quality than the exposure, micro-climate, and soil of the vineyards.
In Burgundy, only 1% of the wine produced is from GC vineyards and another 10% is from 1er Cru. Here, it is all exposure and soil type, drainage and micro-climate before historical precedence (which of course still plays a big role.)
In Alsace there are Grands Crus based on historical vineyards (none of whose actual boundaries can be agreed on BTW.) About 5% (too much for 'Grand', which shouldn't be thrown around lightly) of the production is GC, far more that either Bordeaux or Burgundy, and there is no Premier Cru system to speak of. There are regularly lieu-dit vineyards which outperform the GCs (which can be said of certain plots in Burgundy as well.) This is especially true of vineyards like Marckrain or Vorbourg, when there are much better clos and lieu-dit vineyards which might not merit Grand Cru status. I do agree with the uniquely Alsatian notion that certain vines are more suited to different vineyards so that not all vines planted in a Grands Cru site can bear the name Grand Cru (some growers get around this by declaring their Pinot Noir ‘Cuvee H’ for GC Hengst, which disallows Pinot Noir, for example.) The yields are still too large and of course there isn’t defined typicité in sweetness level, which might be the biggest knock on Alsace. Even Germany who is neck-deep in their own classification problems has narrowed EG/GG/EL to include only totally dry wines OR noble sweet wines. It seems to me that Alsace (whose wines I deeply and passionately love) have a unique opportunity to change legislation now, while the rest of the rulebook is being altered.
And if perhaps it is the topic for another discussion, why don’t the Rhone and maybe the Loire take this opportunity to classify their own vineyards into Grands Crus? But which model would they adopt?
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Tim York » Tue Feb 26, 2008 6:30 am

William K wrote:
Tim York wrote: Producer reputation already is and is likely to remain the most important single factor in wine choice, other than price, red or white, sweet or dry, heavy or light.



On the point above, I'm thinking of a scenario where I am looking at a limited restaurant wine list or am in an out-of-town wine shop and I simply do not recognize any of the producers in a given category, e.g., white Burgundy (or alternatively I do recognize a couple, but as the source of previous disappointments). I think of myself as reasonably literate on this particular category, yet I find myself in this situation probably a dozen or so times during a year. When this happens, producer reputation is of course a non-factor in wine choice, and I have to fall back on appellation and vintage. Under the current system, I believe my odds are pretty good that any 2005 AOC Borgogne is going to be a crowd-pleaser. I'd be less confident if that were extended to include Macon, and therefore less inclined to take my chances. The likely effect of this would be for me to head to what I consider to be safer ground, e.g., Rias Baixas. Encouraging me to drink more Albarino is surely not what the French have in mind.


That is an interesting point. Indeed, I have seen some (modest) restaurant wine lists where neither producer nor vintage are mentioned. I am most likely to find a situation like this when on holiday. My basic inclination is then to order water or beer, but in a wine growing region the local wine should be a fair bet. I know of no appellation in Europe which is sufficiently reliable for confident blind buying. (I do not have a lot of experience of Rias Baixas but I do admit that I have yet to have a bad Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.)

The intention of the French reform is to make appellations in the top "terroir" tier much more reliable with a sort of quality guarantee as a result of the much more rigorous processes for "agrément". We will have to wait a few years to see whether this works. However, although producer quality variation may diminish, it will never disappear.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Jon Peterson » Tue Feb 26, 2008 6:51 pm

Tim York wrote:I also guess that producers of "territoire" Bourgogne etc. will want to put "Pinot Noir" and "Chardonnay" on the label;


I can't help but be reminded of that line "You mean the French are making a Pinot Noir, too?"
I just wanted to inform you that I find you to be very attractive. Thank you and have a nice day.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

by Bill Hooper » Tue Feb 26, 2008 7:59 pm

Jon Peterson wrote:
Tim York wrote:I also guess that producers of "territoire" Bourgogne etc. will want to put "Pinot Noir" and "Chardonnay" on the label;


I can't help but be reminded of that line "You mean the French are making a Pinot Noir, too?"


I also love "Burgundy is a place? Where is it?" Aren't people required to take European History in highschool?
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