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1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

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2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Monday, 3 March 2014

Quarts de Chaume: reflecting on the Conseil d'Etat's verdict

Florent Baumard  

The Conseil d'Etat's very welcome decision* and its associated judgment to reject the legal challenge to the revised appellations of Quarts de Chaume and Coteux du Layon 1er Cru Chaume has wider implications than just in this small sector of the Layon. It appears to open the possibility of a few further grand crus and, more likely, premier cru status for especially favoured sites in the Layon and perhaps elsewhere in the Loire.

Although an interesting and perhaps welcome development it may also sow the seeds of further conflict as inevitably classifications create new haves and have nots. There are, for instance, plenty of examples of this in Bordeaux as well as in Coonawarra, Australia with the arguments over the limits of the terra rosa.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the judgment is the forthright rejection of cryoselection – see below. In the section below it is evident that the view of INAO that cryoselection is barely an acceptable process for appellation wines and, surely not all, for by implication one of France’s greatest sweet wines. This is more than supported by the Conseil d’Etat, who characterize cryoselection as a means of significantly increasing yields, allowing the picking of grapes at the beginning of the harvest before they have achieved the required of super-ripeness.

The Conseil d’Etat judgment forcefully stresses that the maximum yield for an appellation is indeed a maximum and not a threshold to be regularly attained. One of the objections to the 2011 décret was that it wasn’t possible to attain the maximum yield permitted without the use of cryoselection.    

‘S'agissant de l'interdiction du recours au procédé de cryosélection:

17. Considérant qu'il ressort des pièces du dossier que le procédé de cryosélection, qui permet de sélectionner les grains de raisin les plus concentrés et sucrés et d'isoler les grains les plus aqueux en portant l'ensemble des grains cueillis à température négative, a été regardé par la commission d'enquête de l'INAO comme relevant des " pratiques peu ou pas recommandables en matière d'AOC " au motif qu'il conduit à un affaiblissement du lien spécifique du produit avec son terroir en incitant à récolter en début de vendange plutôt que d'attendre la surmaturation, soumise aux conditions climatiques d'arrière-saison, du raisin sur pied ; que, si ce procédé permet une amélioration substantielle du rendement de la vigne, il ne ressort pas des pièces du dossier qu'il serait indispensable à la rentabilité de l'exploitation des vins de Quarts deA... ; que, contrairement à ce que soutient la société requérante, le niveau de rendement de la vigne fixé par le cahier des charges n'est pas un seuil à atteindre mais un maximum ne pouvant être dépassé ; qu'il ne ressort pas des pièces du dossier que ce procédé serait indispensable pour atteindre le titre alcoométrique volumique naturel minimum fixé par le cahier des charges ; que doit, dès lors, être écarté le moyen tiré de ce que le pouvoir réglementaire aurait commis une erreur manifeste d'appréciation en homologuant un cahier des charges interdisant le recours au procédé de cryosélection ;’

The Conseil d'Etat's unequivocal rejection of cryoselection should not only discourage any other Quarts de Chaume producers tempted after two difficult harvests - 2012 and 2013 - to use this technique while it remains legal until after the 2019 vintage under the transitional arrangements. What producer would want to use cryoselection for top quality sweet wine when this technique is barely or even not recommended by the INAO and the Conseil d'Etat characterised it as giving higher yields, from grapes picked early before surmaturite and before they have attained the required concentration?

Will the judgment make any difference to producers in other parts of France aiming to make quality sweet wine? The damning judgment would seem to be a clear disincentive despite the advantage of obtaining higher yields. 

The Conseil d'Etat also rejected the complaint over the yield in low density vines being reduced by 10%. The Conseil notes that it is rare in the Quarts de Chaume to reach maximum permitted yield and that with lower spaced vines it is easier to attain the maximum yield. 

Hopefully producers in the Quarts de Chaume and Chaume can now concentrate on making wines that are fully worthy of their grand cru and premier cru status, accepting that, in Quarts de Chaume especially, you cannot expect to make this in all years. There will be vintages when it will be impossible to produce or the resulting wine does not merit the Quarts de Chaume status. Instead it can be sold as Coteaux du Layon. Or there is the possibility of making dry white wine instead - but that is a whole new discussion that is starting to stir! Not one for this post.  

And Domaine des Baumard?
Will Florent Baumard come to accept in time that the court's was the best outcome for him and even, perhaps, come to welcome it? The judgment brings to an end a conflict over the status of the Quarts de Chaume and Chaume that has soured relationships in this small but beautiful part of the Layon for more than a decade.

This is the third time that the Baumard family has challenged an appellation décret in the hamlet of Chaume. On the first two occasions their challenges were successful. The 2003 was annulled in 2005 and the 2007 was annulled in 2009. Details of the judgments are on the Conseil d'Etat website – here. *Type in 'Quarts de Chaume' to start your search. For the latest judgment type in 356103 – the number of the file.

Incidentally the Domaine des Baumard also appealed in 2008 to the Conseil d'Etat over the spacing of some of their vines in both the Quarts de Chaume and Savennières. These vines were too widely spaced to meet the appellation rules. The INAO had informed Domaine des Baumard that for the 2007 vintage that these parcels would be excluded from their respective appellations. The Conseil d'Etat rejected the Baumards' appeal on 17th December 2008. So to date a score draw – played four – won two, lost two.    

Presumably Florent Baumard now has the choice of continuing to use the Quarts de Chaume appellation without the aid of cryoselection after 2019 or to continue to use cryoselection and sell the wines as Vin de France. Of course, a mix of the two would also be possible.

Ironically Jean Baumard can be seen the father of Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru. Back in 1968 he was the president of the Syndicat de Quarts de Chaume when they decided to apply to the INAO to make the Quarts de Chaume. Although Jean Baumard duly wrote a letter to the INAO, the proposal doesn't appear to have gone any further.  

Jean Baumard: Le Quarts de Chaume published April 2007


Sorcha York said...

I'm a bit confused here. What has the spacing of Baumard's vines got to do with INAO?

Jim Budd said...

Sorcha. Appellation rules under the INAO frequently lay down the maximum spacing allowed between vines, so the Quarts de Chaume decret is not unusual.

Sorcha York said...

Hi Jim, so does it also lay down a minimum spacing as well?

Jim Budd said...

Sorcha. No there is no minimum.

Sorcha York said...

??? Even more confused now!

Jim Budd said...

It is based on the belief that a vineyard with say 6000 vines gives better quality grapes than one planted with 3300, for instance.