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French Cepage - A New Labeling Concept for French Wine is Shelved
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed October 13, 2003. For more information go to

A marketing concept that would have created a new labeling category for French wines made from grapes grown in more than one wine-producing region has been shelved for now, the British wine journal Decanter reported this week.

The initiative would have created a new category, "Cepage de France" ("French blend of grapes") that would have allowed producers to bypass the traditional French appellation system which requires quality wines to be labeled with their region of origin - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chablis and the like - and also requires the use of strictly regulated grape varieties and vinification techniques specific to the region.

The concept was put forward by "Cap 2010," which Decanter described as "an industry group of seven heavyweight industry insiders set up to advise on ways to improve French wines and halt the loss of market share to New World producers."

"Cepage de France" wines would be required to contain only 85 percent of the grape variety shown on the label (in contrast to a 100 percent requirement in many French appellations), and would not carry a regional designation other than "France."

Despite the powerful industry forces aligned behind it, however, Decanter reported that Allan Sichel, managing director of Maison Sichel, one of the seven Cap 2010 participants, declared the plan a "no go area."

Largely because of opposition from producers of Vin de Pays ("Wine of the country," a secondary tier of French wines below the controlled appellation system), Sichel said, "It's not practical to see it being launched in the short term. It's not given up, but it's on hold."

Many regional producers opposed the concept, Decanter reported, because they believe that Cepage de France wines would be cheaper to produce and would destabilize the market. "It was obvious that consumers would see no difference between Cepage de France and Vins de Pays," Sichel told

The plan would also have required regulatory change within the European Union to resolve conflicts with EU requirements that quality wines be produced from grapes grown in specific delimited geographical regions.

Is this merely a technical issue, or does it matter to wine consumers? It seems to me that any significant change in wine marketing and regulation with potential to create new markets or impact old ones is worth watching.

Personally, I view the proposal with mixed emotions. The side of me that enjoys new experiences and hails innovation would like to see what sort of new wines would emerge if Cepage de France wins approval. But my cynical side fears the "rush to the bottom" that might occur if mass-market producers took advantage of the concept to make bland, homogenized-style wines that gradually supplanted wines with more distinct regional character.

To read writer Adam Lechmere's full article on Cepage de France at


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