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Three Bordeaux chteaux are told to declassify wines

Published:  23 July, 2008

INAO accused of "total stupidity"

THE INSTITUT National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) has forced three Bordeaux chteaux, including the world-famous Chteau Valandraud in St Emilion, to declassify a proportion of their 2000 vintage to vins de table, following a ruling on the use of costly plastic sheeting in vineyards. The other two chteaux are Fontenil, owned by globe-trotting wine consultant and leading Right Bank winemaker, Michel Rolland, and de Carles, both in Fronsac. One other, unnamed property, agreed to remove plastic sheeting, according to Jacques Gautier, the INAO's regional director for the Gironde. The three properties incurred the wrath of the INAO for using under-vine sheeting in some of their vineyards during the summer. INAO acted after receiving complaints from producers in the Ctes du Rhne, Loire Valley and Alsace. The sheeting, which costs about FFr13,000 per hectare to install, is used to prevent excess water reaching the vines' roots and swelling the size of berries. Rolland, who used it on five out of 30 acres of vines at Fontenil after a successful experiment last year, insisted that the measure can help to produce better-quality grapes in excessively wet vintages, such as 1999, when "we had 160mm of rain in three weeks". The decision has been greeted with incredulity in France and the UK. Rolland has criticised the "total stupidity" of INAO, while Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners, one of the largest distributors of Jean-Luc Thunevin's wines from Chteau Valandraud, said: "It is a ludicrous piece of INAO bureaucracy." Five out of Thunevin's 40 acres were covered with plastic, so he will be forced to produce a vin de table wine from declassified vineyards, alongside Chteau Valandraud. Said Browett: "Thunevin will make sure that the vin de table wine is better than his AOC wine." Rolland, too, confirmed that he would make something "pretty special" with his declassified grapes. Gautier defended the decision: "We warned Thunevin last year about the use of plastic and, even though he had covered four of his 40 acres with plastic, we let him keep the appellation for that year. This year we wrote to him, but he ignored us, so we informed him we would declassify some of his wines. We also said that we were willing to experiment with plastic by proper, independent research before he used it, but Thunevin rejected that."