This is a question that a good friend of mine asked me yesterday, so this is for you Brian.
Appellation Contrôlée, are a set of standards applied by the french wine industry in the 1920's to protect consumers and try to maintain a high standard of wine making a sort of governing body if you like.
As France is such a large area, with different challenges being presented in the differing regions the standards would vary slightly depending on the style and type of wine being produced.
By 1936-1937, the National Institute for Appellations of Origin (INAO) was created and had enacted rules controlling the grape growing and wine production for all the key wine regions in France.
If you complied to these conditions you could put on the label of your wine bottle, "Appellation Contrôlée" or (AC), this was quality assurance for the consummer and would mean that the producer could ask a premium price for the wine.
The rules applied the following conditions -
- Geographic limits of the production area.
- Density of planting
- Pruning style and standards.
- Yields per hectare
- Mandatory tasting by a certification panel.
- Allowed grape varieties.
- Trellis systems
- Wine making techniques
- Lab analysis standards
- Vineyard practices.
In contrast somewhere like, New Zealand for example an up and coming new world producer of wine has extremly challenging conditions in which to make wine, (that is not to say that France can't be challenging), so New Zealand has very few controls over how there wine is made.
To compensate for the variable climatic conditions they can irrigate if rain fall has been low, they can add sugar to the wine during fermentation to compensate for a lack of sun and to raise the alcohol content in the finished wine, in hot summers the grapes lose acidity so they can add acid to the wine to compensate, if the wine is over acid chalk can be added to compensate.
I am not saying that New Zealand does not have a high standard of wine making they make some wonderful wines, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is rated throughout the world as the definitive benchmark style for this grape.
The growing recognition for New Zealand Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wines, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends is helping to further cement New Zealand's position as a producer of world class wines.
I hope that this helps Brian or any one else that is interested.
"Wisdom doesn't automatically come with old age. Nothing does - except wrinkles.
It's true, some wines improve with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first place".
Abigal Van Buren