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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Anastasia Edwards

Ren Renou, the president of the Comit National des Vins et Eaux-de-vie of the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO), the regulatory body for French winemakers, has gone public for the first time with his proposals for the biggest reform to the French appellation system since the 1930s. The proposals would see the division of the current appellation system into two - Appellations d'Origine Contrle, which would guarantee the origin of the grapes used to make the wine; and Appellations d'Origine Contrle d'Excellence, which would also include a quality-level guarantee. Renou also told Harpers that he would be calling for every French appellation to rewrite its laws because they are very often incomplete and therefore we need to write very clearly thecultural practices, the environmental practices - everything that we do. We need to do what we say and to say what we do,' Renou went on. That is the spirit in which the Syndicats d'Appellations are going to rewrite their laws. After that, we will surely have two writings. There will be people who will want more flexibility and there will be those who want more strictness. Therefore for me that creates two families: the AOCs as they exist now, with perhaps a bit more flexibility, and the AOCEs, which will have more rigour, higher expectations and more rules.' It is by no means certain that the proposed changes will become law, however. There will surely be some opposition,' Renou said. But there will also be supporters. It will be a real debate on the foundations of viticulture, and we will have to ask some fundamental questions: What are we? Where are we? Where do we want to go? What do we want to do? How can we seduce the consumer on a market that is so tight and difficult?' Rumours about the proposals, which will be presented formally to the Comit National when it convenes on 29 April, have been circulating for months (see Harpers, 5 March), and Renou himself said he had been working on them discreetly' for two years. But Renou's speech, given to an international audience of journalists, winemakers and restaurateurs at the American Food Revolution, a six-day event at Raymond Blanc's Oxfordshire restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons on Sunday, was the first time he had discussed the plans publicly in any detail. French winemakers have a hangover,' he told the audience. It comes not only from the competition posed by the excellence of wines from New World wine producers and the popularity of Spanish and Italian wines in the US and Britain, but from the fact there is no longer a wine lake, but a wine ocean.'