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Monday, 8 June 2015

Affaire Blot/Chidaine: did Vouvray and the INAO exceed their legal powers?

François Chidaine and Jacky Blot with their 2013 Vouvrays


Barring the vinification of Vouvray in Montlouis
Is the ban on Jacky Blot and François Chidaine vinifying their Vouvray in the commune of Montlouis on a sound legal basis?  
 
A brief resumé of the current position: 
Vouvray’s appellation rules were changed in October 2009 to ensure that all still wines bearing the Vouvray appellation are made within the Vouvray AC. The only exception is part of Nazelles-Négron, a neighbouring commune just outside the eastern limit of the appellation.

Montlouis producers were allowed to make wine under the Vouvray name until the 2013 vintage. 

Jacky Blot, of Domaine de la Taille aux Loups and who has five hectares of Vouvray vines, has been making his Vouvray in Montlouis since 1998. In October 1999, The INAO formally granted permission to do so, with no time limit given. 

François Chidaine, with 10 hectares of Vouvray, bought the famous Clos Baudoin in the centre of Vouvray in 2001. Having built a modern winery in Montlouis Chidaine also started in 2013 to make his Vouvray in Montlouis as the facilities at the Clos Baudoin are antiquated.

Blot and Chidaine were inspected by the INAO in January 2015 and told that their 2014 harvest could not be called ‘Vouvray’ as it had been made in Montlouis. Blot will be selling his ‘Vouvrays’ as Vin de France at up to 24 euros a bottle.

'We were not consulted or informed about the proposed ban on vinifying Vouvray in Montlouis,' said Blot and Chidaine.


 ••

Last Wednesday I interviewed Jacky Blot and François Chidaine about their recent ban – from the 2014 vintage – on vinifying their grapes from their Vouvray vineyards. Later that day I had a phone interview with Philippe Brisebarre, president of the regional committee of the INAO. Philippe was the president of the Syndicat des Vignerons de l'Aire d'Appellation Vouvray when the Vouvray rules were changed in 2009 to exclude the possibility of vinifying still Vouvray in the commune of Montlouis. Since 1974 making sparkling Vouvray outside AC Vouvray has been banned.

Both Jacky Blot and François Chidaine were adamant that they had neither been consulted nor informed about the change to the Vouvray rules barring the vinification of their Vouvrays in the commune of Montlouis. They both cite the success of their Vouvrays on having provoked the Syndicat to restrict the vinification of still Vouvray to the aire of AC Vouvray with part of Nazelles-Négron the sole exception outside the zone. 

During my meeting with Blot and Chidaine it emerged that Blot had been given permission in September 1999 by the INAO to vinifiy his Vouvray in the commune of Montlouis. The INAO placed no time restriction on this dérogation. See the correspondence here.  

Both Jacky Blot and François Chidaine hope that a solution can be found. However, while Blot will be selling his 2014 'Vouvray' labelled Vin de France (see below), Chidaine is waiting for September in the hope that he may legally be able to label his wines as Vouvray.    

La Taille aux Loups 2014 Bretonnière Vin de France (aka Vouvray)

La Taille aux Loups 2014 Venise Vin de France (aka Vouvray)


Philippe Brisebarre
In contrast Philippe Brisebarre held out no possibility of there being a solution:  

'I have nothing against Blot and Chidaine,' Philippe told me. "However, our hands are tied by the EU law. Even if we wanted to change the law we can’t. I have spent six months trying to find a solution."

Brisebarre explained that EU law allowed places outside an appellation's zone where these wines had been vinified prior to 1970 could continue to do so but this wasn't possible if there was no tradition of this before 1970. Vouvray could be vinified in Nazelles-Négron because Vouvray had been vinified in part of this commune prior to 1970. This wasn't the case for the commune of Montlouis. 

Philippe explained that the famous appeal against the very restrictive Pomerol appellation had succeeded because of this 1970 rule. He pointed out that the décret of Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil does not allow Saint-Nicolas to be vinified in Chinon.

I asked Philippe about the commune of Montlouis being close to AC Vouvray since the distance from both Blot's and Chidaine's vineyards to their wineries in the hamlet of Husseau, part of commune of Montlouis, was less than that from the western extremity  of AC Vouvray and the commune of Nazelles-Négron. "We don't measure the distance," he explained. "The Loire (which separates the two communes) is a barrier." 

Philippe also insisted that in 2007 he had discussed with François Chidaine the intended change to the appellation rules. At the time Chidaine vinified his Vouvray at the Clos Baudoin within the commune of Vouvray, so the change wouldn't have affected him. It was only in 2013, once François had built his new winery, that he started vinifying his Vouvray within the commune of Montlouis. François assumed that the 1999 permission granted to Jacky Blot to vinify Vouvray in the commune of Montlouis would also apply to him and to others within the commune.  

Chidaine cannot remember having had this discussion with Brisebarre.  


Although I am no lawyer and may well be looking at the wrong legislation, it is far from clear that the hands of the Vouvray Syndicat and the INAO are as tied as Philippe Brisebarre says. 

Firstly there is the unlimited permission that the INAO granted Jacky Blot on 9th September 1999 to vinify his Vouvray in the commune of Montlouis. Did this not set a precedent that would require good reasons to be set aside? 

Secondly the Reglement (CE) n o 607/2009 de la Commission du 14 juillet 2009 allows the possibility of vinifying an appellation's wines in an immediately adjacent zone (à proximité immediate de la zone délimitée concernée) or in the same administrative zone or a neighbouring one (dans une zone située dans la même unité administrative ou dans une unité administrative voisine, conformément aux régles nationales). 

The pre-1970 rule cited by Philippe Brisebarre appears only to apply if the area is outside the immediate vicinity:

'En outre, les États membres peuvent permettre, par des autorisations individuelles et sous réserve d'un contrôle approprié, qu'un v.q.p.r.d . soit obtenu en transformant des raisins en moût et du moût en vin, ainsi qu'en élaborant ce vin, même en dehors d'une aire à proximité immédiate de la région déterminée en question : 

a ) lorsqu'il s'agit d'une pratique traditionnelle, si cette pratique :
- était en usage avant le 1er septembre 1970, ou, en ce qui concerne les États membres ayant adhéré à la Communauté après cette date, avant la date de prise d'effet de leur adhésion,
- n'a pas été interrompue depuis ces dates,'


So a key question is whether Montlouis is in the same administrative area as Vouvray or in a neighbouring one (a la même unité administrative ou dans une unité administrative voisine) or is the Loire a barrier as Brisebarre maintains. If it is 'une unité administrative voisine' the before September 1970 usage rule does not apply.  

Montlouis and Vouvray are clearly individual communes and in different cantons (the grouping of several communes). However, looking at the geographical boundaries* of the communes of Montlouis, Vouvray and the adjacent commune of Vernou-sur-Brenne indicates that there is a very good case for classifying them as immediate neighbours and that the Loire is not the barrier that Brisebarre relies upon for justifying the exclusion of the commune of Montlouis.

 The commune of Vouvray – shaded area 
(source the Mairie de Vouvray)

Detail of the southern part of the commune of Vouvray
NB Vouvray includes a small part of the south bank of the Loire 
by the Pont Charles de Gaulle built in 1993.

Commune of Montlouis (shaded) borders the communes 
of Vouvray and Vernou even sharing a land border by the 
Pont Charles de Gaule where Vouvray encroaches 
on the south side of the Loire and 
also further east where Montlouis meets Vernou 
appearing to just touch the north bank of the Loire 
Montlouis and Vouvray also share an island in the middle of the river    

 The commune of Vernou-sur-Brenne, which shares a boundary 
with Montlouis, like Vouvray claiming a small part of the south bank 
of the Loire.
Montlouis and Vernou-sur-Brenne also share an island in the middle of the river    


These maps showing the limits of the three communes – Montlouis, Vouvray and Vernou – indicate that rather than the Loire being a barrier the boundaries show that the three communes are very closely linked. It would surely be a considerable legal challenge to attempt to prove that the commune of Montlouis is not a neighbouring administrative unit (une unité administrative voisine).
If the commune of Montlouis is indeed an administrative neighbour of the Vouvray, it would appear that EU law relating to traditional usage pre-1970 does not apply, so the Vouvray rules did not need to be changed to comply with EU regulations and that a dérogation to allow Vouvray to be vinify within the commune of Montlouis could be granted if the Syndicat des producteurs de Vouvray/INAO wishes, especially as this would conform with the INAO's favourable decision of 9th September 1999. 

Brisbarre’s example of Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil not allowing their wines to be made in Chinon is a false analogy as the Chinon does not adjoin Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil unlike Montlouis which adjoins Vouvray. Producers are permitted, however, to vinify Saint-Nicolas in the following nearby communes on the south bank of the Loire: Avoine, Beaumont-en-Véron and Savigny-en-Véron.  

Would, I wonder, France's Conseil d'Etat find that Vouvray's change of the regulations in respect of the commune of Montlouis-sur-Loire in their décret of 15th October 2009 to be necessary, proportional and suitable to protect the reputation of the Vouvray appellation?  

Reglement (CE) n o 607/2009 de la Commission du 14 juillet 2009
5) La limitation à une zone géographique donnée du conditionnement d'un produit vitivinicole bénéficiant d'une appellation d'origine ou d'une indication géographique, ou des opérations liées à sa présentation, constitue une restriction de la libre circulation des marchandises et de la libre prestation de services. À la lumière de la jurisprudence de la Cour de justice, de telles restrictions ne peuvent être imposées que si elles sont nécessaires, proportionnées et de nature à protéger la réputation de l'appellation d'origine ou de l'indication géographique. Toute restriction doit être dûment justifiée au regard de la libre circulation des marchandises et de la libre prestation de services. 

••

Appendices:     
Reglement (CE) n o 607/2009 de la Commission du 14 juillet 2009
5) La limitation à une zone géographique donnée du conditionnement d'un produit vitivinicole bénéficiant d'une appellation d'origine ou d'une indication géographique, ou des opérations liées à sa présentation, constitue une restriction de la libre circulation des marchandises et de la libre prestation de services. À la lumière de la jurisprudence de la Cour de justice, de telles restrictions ne peuvent être imposées que si elles sont nécessaires, proportionnées et de nature à protéger la réputation de l'appellation d'origine ou de l'indication géographique. Toute restriction doit être dûment justifiée au regard de la libre circulation des marchandises et de la libre prestation de services.

Article 6

Production dans la zone géographique délimitée
Par dérogation aux dispositions fixées (voir etc.) et sous rèserve que le cahier des charges le prévote, un produit d'une appellation d'origine protégée (AOP) ou d'une indication géographique protégée peut être transforme en vin

a) dans une zone à proximité immediate de la zone délimitée concernée, ou
b) dans une zone située dans la même unité administrative ou dans une unité administrative voisine, conformément aux régles nationales, ou

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/FR/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32009R0607

From www.lavigne-mag.fr 
(which appears to suggest that the dérogation given by the INAO in 1999 to Jacky Blot should continue, although of course this is a magazine article and not a décret.)
Toutes les nouvelles demandes de dérogation devraient donc s'appuyer dans le futur sur ce nouveau cadre collectif. Pour les dérogations individuelles légalement enregistrées dans le passé - il s'agit de quelques dizaines -, elles seront définitivement accordées, même si le lieu de vinification se trouve en dehors de l'API nouvellement définie, et ce à plusieurs conditions. ' Lorsque la pratique était en usage avant septembre 1970, qu'elle n'a pas été interrompue depuis et qu'elle porte sur des quantités qui, depuis lors, n'ont pas augmenté, auprès du transformateur en question, plus que celles correspondant à l'évolution générale du marché ', stipule le règlement européen de 1999. 

(http://www.lavigne-mag.fr/archive/article/resserrer-les-regles-d-octroi-VI1242115108.html
 
EU rules regarding proximity
RÈGLEMENT (CE) N o 607/2009 DE LA COMMISSION du 14 juillet 2009
3 . Par dérogation au paragraphe 1 deuxième tiret, un v.q.p.r.d . peut être obtenu ou élaboré dans une aire à proximité immédiate de la région déterminée en question lorsque l'État membre concerné l'a prévu par autorisation expresse et sous certaines conditions .

En outre, les États membres peuvent permettre, par des autorisations individuelles et sous réserve d'un contrôle approprié, qu'un v.q.p.r.d . soit obtenu en transformant des raisins en moût et du moût en vin, ainsi qu'en élaborant ce vin, même en dehors d'une aire à proximité immédiate de la région déterminée en question : 

a ) lorsqu'il s'agit d'une pratique traditionnelle, si cette pratique :
- était en usage avant le 1er septembre 1970, ou, en ce qui concerne les États membres ayant adhéré à la Communauté après cette date, avant la date de prise d'effet de leur adhésion,
- n'a pas été interrompue depuis ces dates,
et
- porte sur des quantités qui, depuis lors, n'ont pas augmenté, auprès du transformateur en question, plus que celles correspondant à l'évolution générale du marché;
b ) dans les autres cas et s'il s'agit d'une pratique en usage avant le 1er septembre 1989, pendant une période transitoire qui se termine au plus tard le 31 août 1992 . 

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/FR/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32009R0607

6 comments:

Luc Charlier said...

Jim, you explain (confess?) somewhere you are not a lawyer. Allright, but you are a hell of a journalist. You present us with all the necessary information, and some useful comments too. Thank you. My personal contribution would just ask two questions: 1) why can a "président d'appellation" (and his team) grant a "dérogation" (or several, yes even many) in some regions of France and not in others?
2) what disadvantage is there - in the case of FAMOUS winemakers, as is the case here - in "down-grading" one's wine to Vin de France (now allowed to mention the year of the vintage and even the grape variety if so wished)?

Jim Budd said...

Thank you Luc for your kind comment. I'm afraid I can't answer your first question. A brief look at the AIRE DE PROXIMITÉ IMMÉDIATE in various décrets shows a very wide variation in practice between appellations. Partially I assume this comes from 'traditional practice' which is likely to account for why it is possible to vinify Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Ampuis – 182 kilometres north of Ch9 but where Guigal is based. Savennières also has a large AIRE DE PROXIMITÉ IMMÉDIATE (API). In contrast Vouvray is very restrictive with only part of the commune of Nazelles-Négron considered an API and only for still Vouvray not sparkling.

As for your second question I can't think that for famous producers it is a disadvantage people buy the Blot or Chidaine trademark whether it is Vin de France or Vouvray. However, both believe in the notion of terroir and appellation, so prefer to seel their 'Vouvray' wines under said appellation.

Jim Budd said...

Comment by Michel Bettane posted on Les 5 du Vin:

Great job Jim! Blot and Chidaine for years are making very fine Vouvray wines, very often far better than most made inside the Vouvray area. For the moment I am sure that the decision taken by Brise barre (a very honest guy otherwise and good grower too) is in relationship with the european legislation strictly an abuse, as you clearly demonstrated and can be attacked and will win. The general problem is the relationship between taste and place, what they call « lien au terroir ». Many people are thinking than the « link » is lost when wines are bottled outside. But what is the meaning of outside? What will happen when it will be demonstrated (and my intimate conviction confirmed) that one of the most important features of the taste of any terroir wine is the work of the cellar’s yeasts , as important as the grape’s ones!

Antoine LeBear said...

Regarding Luc Charlier's second point, even if they are famous, they are not superstars and for some restaurants having a "Vin de France" at the price of a famous Vouvray makes it harder to sell, so they may remove it from their wine list. Especially outside of France like here in Quebec.

Cathy Henton said...

We were talking to Vincent Careme a couple of weeks ago about this and he said that there was no change to the legislation in 2009 - that it had always been within the cahier des charges right from the beginning (that vinification had to be within the geographic zone). The problem was (he said), that when the new AOP rules were applied by the EU, the AC's had to be redrawn taking this into account and at that time, no change was made to allow it. Puts a slightly different spin on the affair if this is the case. The situation is a ludicrous one bearing in mind that it's not the case in other AC's.

Jim Budd said...

Cathy. Many thanks. Two points: in September 1999 the INAO gave Jacky. Blot unlimited permission to vinify his Vouvray in the commune of Montlouis. Secondly the EU legislation allows wine to be vinified in neighbouring communes. Philippe Brisbarre told me that the problem is that the Loire is a barrier. Although physically this is correct, administratively this is not the case as the boundaries of both Vouvray and Vernou traverse the Loire.