Notre invité australien Lincoln Siliakus (Vino Solex) revient sur un événement récent auquel deux des 5 (Marc et Hervé) ont également assisté.
Every time I go to the Languedoc, there is talk of appellation reform. Villages get promoted, new appellations are created, and there’s constant talk about new categories within the existing ones… Enter Jean-Philippe Granier, the enthusiastic and ebullient “technical director” for the AOC Languedoc, and himself a winemaker. If he’s not in the throes of actually having an idea, he’s chatting about one he’s just had. And he invited a small group of journalists to the area recently to chew the cud about eight historical appellations that he believes warrant greater recognition, the details of which I’ll cover in another blog.
An enthusiastic Jean-Philippe Granier
This story is to ask the basic question – what’s going on here? In other words, what is all this AOC shuffling in the Languedoc telling us about people: their “culture”, beliefs, habits and images? Intellectualism warning – if elitism is a French fetish, so is complication. This could get messy. And from now on I’ll use the new European AOP (Appellation Origine Protégée) designation. The C in AOC stands for “Contrôlée », another French fixation.
Anyway, the French themselves think of their country as a hexagon. In fact, they often use that word to describe the “mainland” of France as opposed to its islands such as Corsica and its territories such as Guiana.
But, psychologically, France is more like this.
The entire country, it seems, is graded: from schools to restaurants, churches, towns; just about everything has one or more stars or labels. It’s a profoundly elitist culture, in which excellence (but not wealth) is flaunted.
And Australia might look more like this, as it is a country of brands of different sizes and colours that are being pumped up or pricked, all floating around in a free market (well, with a bit of mateship and corruption thrown in, of course) and a wine’s value is its cost.
To return to that triangle. At the moment, the winemakers are looking at one which looks like this. It’s inspired by that drawing of Jean-Philippe’s, although I still don’t really understand it. They are being somewhat hopeful at this stage as the system does not (yet) contain the highest category there.
The idea is to get to the top and then to fight off the upstarts. Or to create an even higher category. The folk out at Châteauneuf-du-Pape must be thinking about this seriously, as a new cru comes along in the Côtes du Rhône just about every year, and they must be looking at ways to step over the crowd of newbies.
In passing, we need to understand that this triangle is based on an assumption; a subliminal code if you like. France is a ground-up culture, where your sense of identity comes from the territoire (there you have it, it’s the new buzzword over here) into which you were born, your place. The French farmer belongs to the earth, not vice versa as in Australia. The land is not just an asset, but something to pass on to the next generation. Hence the assumption that the identity, quality and value of a wine derive inherently from the place in which it is grown. It’s obvious, Monsieur. And, yes, it is.
Back to our triangle. Normally, if you don’t meet the rules of a category, you can drop down to the level below, so the system could also be thought of like this.
This depends on all sorts of factors, the most important apparently being the availability of that lower category when your current one was created. I warned you that this is a mess! So, if you were not in the AOP Languedoc when that was created but your appellation now finds itself at the Cru level above it, you cannot drop to anywhere in this triangle. You’d have to sell your stuff as an IGP or Vin de France, which is below the triangle. Indeed, only 10% of the Languedoc’s wine is at the AOP grade.
This appellation frenzy is terrific of course – it allows winemakers to hold innumerable meetings during which the qualities of the product are re-assessed in practice. It justifies a plethora of working committees, and facilitates the inflow of public funds. It maintains an army of officials, keeps geologists busy, and justifies journalist visits.
Except for the poor consumers, that is, who have no idea about what they are drinking.