At first sight it is decidedly curious that the C word (culture) is silent in appellation contrôlée. There are detailed regulations on the number of vines per hectare, permitted grapes varieties, yields, pruning systems and the number of buds allowed but nothing, or very rarely, anything about how a vineyard should be managed in the AC décrets.
On further reflection this is perhaps not so strange as the first appellations were drawn up in 1936 before the advent of the chemical arsenal now available to a vigneron. Then you farmed organically whether you liked it or not – there wasn’t a choice. Thus presumably there was no need to include ‘culture’ rules in the first appellations. For some reason it appears not to have been thought appropriate to include them subsequently.
Perhaps more should have been made of the ban on desherbage total (using weedkiller over the whole vineyard) in the décret of the new AC for Saumur Le Puy Notre Dame. Indeed producers are required to either grass over their vineyards or harrow the soil and the use of weed killers is limited to 50% of the area. Details:
'AOC Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame
Pour l'AOC «Saumur» suivie de la dénomination géographique Puy-Notre-Dame: l'enherbement (naturel ou semé) ou la culture des sols (labour) est obligatoire suivant les itinéraires techniques choisis par les producteurs. Le désherbage chimique ne doit pas dépasser 50% de la surface de chaque parcelle engagée. Le dédoublement de la vigne est obligatoire au plus tard le 15 juillet de l'année de récolte.'
As far as I know, it is highly unusual to include rules on how the vineyard should be cultivated in an appellation’s regulations. Although permitting the use of weed killer on 50% of the vineyard is still too much, it is a very welcome start and it would be good to see the rest of France’s appellations following Le Puy’s example.
Which brings us neatly onto the three proposals of Didier Barrouillet of the Clos Roche Blanche in the Cher Valley. The Clos Roche Blanche has achieved cult status in North America.
Didier Barouillet's three proposals:
To have the right to sell wine as appellation contrôlée, producers should not use:
a) artificial fertilisers
Their use both causes vines to over-produce and encourages the plant to grow a lot of roots on the surface rather than to search deeper into the soil for nutrients.
b) weedkiller throughout the vineyard
Destroys a vineyard's biodiversity and the natural balance, which assists in keeping the vine healthy. Widespread use means that other chemical products have to be used to protect the vine against various diseases. It also encourages erosion.
These penetrate into the soil destroying the microbacterial life and this Didier believes is responsible for diseases like esca because the protection this life provides for the roots of the vine has been destroyed.
Overall there is the concern that the long-term effects of the use of these products on the soil, flora and fauna are not properly known.
Producers, who want to use the above products and practices, would have to opt to sell their wine as vin de pays or vin de table: they would not have the right to appellation contrôlée. Perhaps a new Pan-France vin de pays could be created – vin de pays de Monsanto – and could prove to be a popular choice. It is possible, however, that the VDP d’Oc producers might initiate legal action against this new Pan-France VDP citing unfair competition.
It is refreshing to see someone talking good sense about France’s appellation contrôlée rules.
Rusty Pink: this year's fashionable colour for blitzed vineyards