France is not only the most famous wine country in the world, it also deserves the merit of being one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The ancient Romans began to cultivate vines in France around 125 BC. They entered the Rhône valley shortly after.
In the first century AD, the Romans were also active in Bordeaux. Ancient ruins and antiques can be easily spotted throughout France, especially in Bordeaux as well as in the Rhone valley. The Romans knew what to look for. They wanted to plant on hillsides exposed to the sun and natural drainage.
In addition, the vineyards could not be too far from the cities to facilitate trade. Since 2016, France has been second in wine production, at least in volume in the world. Only Spain produces more wine today. However, China is catching up, in terms of volume, but not in price.
Currently, more than 792,000 hectares of vines are planted with the aim of growing grapes for wine in France. This is a change in the amount of hectares planted because less than a decade ago, France had 861,000 hectares planted.
The government agency for French agriculture has helped to force a reduction in the quantity of vines planted, because several small vineyards in poor regions could not earn money by selling their grapes or their wine.
These 792,000 hectares planted in France, depending on the vintage, can produce between 7 and 8 billion bottles of wine per year! Yes, it’s billions with a B! This makes France the first wine region in the world in volume and monetary value.
France, Spain, Italy and America are the world’s largest producers of wine in dollars and hectoliters. However, that could one day change because China is rapidly catching up with its production since it is now one of the top 5 producers. Indeed, China now has more hectares planted with vines than France.
Chinese vineyards now occupy up to 11% of the world’s grape plantations used to produce wine. The growth in China is massive if we consider that in 2000, they owned less than 4% of the world’s vineyards. But the quantity of wine and the dollar value of the wine remain overshadowed by France.
In fact, at least 85 of the most important wines in the world are produced in France. France is always above all other wine producing countries with its massive volume of wine, and above all, its ability to export its wine worldwide!
However, for those of you who like to look at the numbers, Spain has 1.02 million hectares, China has 799,000 hectares, France has 792,000 hectares, Italy has 690,000 hectares and Turkey comes in 5th position with 502,000 hectares.
For years, France has claimed the record for the greatest number of hectares of land cultivated with wine grapes. This is no longer the case, at least from 2016. Today, Interestingly, the areas with the most land planted with grapes are Spain, China, France and Australia.
This should not be confused with volume in terms of hectoliters, number of bottles or value, but in pure raw earth, France has lagged behind and this trend should continue.
For those who like numerous vineyards, the largest appellation is Languedoc with nearly 2,000,000 hectares of vines. The honor of the largest vineyard belongs to the vineyards of San Bernabe in Monterey, California. Today it has nearly 2,800 hectares of vines!
France, with its ocean of wine, produces both red and white wine. Of all this French wine, around 70% of it is devoted to the production of French red wine and 30% to the production of French white wine. While wine is produced throughout France, the most important and important appellations in France are: Alsace, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Champagne, Corse, Jura, Languedoc-Roussillon, Lorie, Provence, Rhône Valley, Savoy and South West of France.
The most important and important appellation for wine production in France on the basis of volume per vintage and dollar value is Bordeaux. Indeed, Bordeaux produces on average more than 450 million bottles of wine per year!
Bordeaux produces the most wine in monetary value as well as in volume and for export. 90% of Bordeaux is devoted to red wine, the remaining 10% being white Bordeaux wine.
More than 60 different grape varieties are planted for the production of red and white wine in France. Obviously, some varietals are more important than others because of their ability to produce wines of complex character and distinction and worthy of aging and, of course, their popularity with consumers.
The top ten grape varieties with the highest concentration in hectares of vineyards planted in France are:
# 1 Merlot 13.6% – 116,715 hectares
# 2 Grenache 11.3% – 97,171 hectares
# 3 Ugni Blanc 9.7% – 83,173 hectares
# 4 Syrah 8.1% – 69,891 hectares
# 5 Carignan 6.9% – 59,210 hectares
# 6 Cabernet Sauvignon 6.7% – 57,913 hectares
# 7 Chardonnay 5.1% – 35,252 hectares
# 8 Cabernet Franc 4.4% – 37,508 hectares
# 9 Gamay 3.7% – 31,771 hectares
# 10 Pinot Noir 3.4% – 29.576 hectares
While almost all French wines are blends of more than one grape variety, this is not always the case. In Burgundy, only Pinot Noir is used to produce red Burgundy wines. Chardonnay is the only authorized grape variety used in the production of white Burgundy wine in Burgundy.
In Bordeaux, the vast majority of red wines are blends. However, in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, some of the most famous producers produce 100% Merlot wine. Almost all white Bordeaux wines are blends. But it’s not always the case. There are some castles in Pessac Leognan for example which produce 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine.
In Sauternes, some areas produce 100% Sémillon wine. The choice of blend depends or not on the rules and laws of the appellation, the terroir and the vision of the winemaker.
The type of wine and the choice of blending or not starts with the terroir, the terroir and the grape varieties planted in the vines. Much of where the fruit was planted has an impact (soil, soil, weather) on the quality, character and style of the wine.
The choices made by vineyard managers during the growing season and the harvest, combined with the decisions that the winemaker will have to make in the cellars, have an additional impact on the nature provided. All these factors contribute to determining the quality, style and character of the wine.
Terroir is more a concept than a specifically identifiable trait. The terroir encompasses a myriad of important natural conditions, in particular: soil, altitude, altitude, sun exposure, temperature ranges, access to water, trees, types of rocks in – above the soil as well as in the soil and the microclimate for each appellation or vineyard. For a detailed explanation of the terroir of Bordeaux; Bordeaux terroir and terroir
This is important because when vines are placed in close proximity to other vines, they naturally compete for food sources.
The underlying logic is that vines planted closely must compete with each other to give life and water and nutrients. This competition forces the plant roots to dig deeper into the soil, which helps the plants maintain their life during dry periods and produces lower yields and smaller but more concentrated grapes.
The majority of well-managed gravel vineyards are planted with 10,000 vines per hectare. This means that in each row, the vines are placed 1 meter apart. On the right bank and in other more clayey and limestone soils, the density of planting is lower, with averages of 6,500 feet per hectare to 7,500 feet per hectare.
However, there are exceptions to each rule. For example, Château Ausone has some plantations at 14,000 feet per hectare and Jean Philippe Janoueix, with its Croix Mouton 20 Mille vineyards has plantations of 20,000 feet per hectare.
The record for the highest level of wine plantation density belongs to Dominique Léandre Chevalier in the Côtes de Blaye appellation. They have a 3 hectare plot of vines planted at 33,000 vines per hectare! Domaine Léandre Chevalier produces several blended wines in portions from their high density plantations, but « Tricolore » is the only wine produced 100% with Petit Verdot from a vine density of 33,000 vines per hectare.
The climate is of course one of the key factors in the character and style of the wine that a vineyard can produce. The soil or the soil alone does not make a quality wine. The winemaker’s and the winemaker’s oenological decisions can have an equal impact on the wine. If not, how do you explain two completely different expressions of wine produced from the same vineyard?
The uniqueness of the terroir has partly given birth to the French system, which is often heavy with the classification of their many wines, countless regions, appellations and of course the AOC system.
The most famous French wine classification took place in 1855, the year of the classification of Bordeaux wines of Medoc origin. The classification of 1855 takes into account only 61 different castles of Médoc and Haut Brion de Pessac Léognan. The wines classified according to their price and their quality in five different classes; First growth, second growth, third growth, fourth growth and fifth growth.
The sweet white Bordeaux wine from Sauternes was also classified in 1855. Saint-Émilion was classified for the first time in 1955. This classification is repeated every 10 years. The most recent classification of St. Emilion took place in 2012. Current classification of St. Emilion It was followed by the classification of Graves, which took place in 1959. To learn more about Bordeaux as well as the facts and production figures: Production Facts, Bordeaux in figures But what about the rest of the wine regions of France?
In 1935, the INAO, National Institute of Designations of Origin, defined strict and specific naming characteristics to guide the consumer, promote minimum quality levels and energize producers to produce better wines. The AOC system. Designation of Origin Controlled. The purpose of the AOC system, which is used for food and other European agricultural products, makes sense.
The idea being that it is the specific place where the product is produced that gives the wine or product its unique character and style. Today, from 2016, the Bordeaux wine region has 60 different appellations in total: The Bordeaux appellations guide
Besides the creation of the appellation system, the INAO also drafted in 1935 a series of French laws and gave birth to the four main categories, or classes of French wines, that many of us know today. Subsequently, these categories have been modernized, but we will come back to this in a moment. These are the four original categories or classes of French wine:
Table wine – The wines bearing this appellation are listed as coming from France and mention the name of the producer on the label. Table Wine or Table Wine comes from any vineyard or grape variety in France. The wine sold as Table Wine does not legally mention the grape varieties, vintages, regions, appellations or production techniques on the label. There are no restrictions on the grapes, the management of the vineyard or the production techniques used to produce Table wine.
Wines Without Geographical Indication – VSIG is the new classification of Table wines. VISG wines are allowed to use the name of the country. but not the specific grape variety, year, appellation or region on the label of wines classified as Wines Without Geographical Indication.
Vin de Pays – VDP – The wines labeled Vin de Pays were produced from a specific and important wine region, they also mention the name of the producer and France. Vin de Pays allows you to put more information on the label, including the area in which the wine was produced. There are very few restrictions in the production of wines sold as Vin de Pays.
Superior Quality Delimited Wine – VDQS is rarely encountered today. Less than 1% of all French wines bear the VDQS label on the label. Superior Quality Delimited Wine is similar, but less restrictive in its rules and regulations for grape varieties, terroir and production techniques than the most common AOC classification. VDQS wines are considered to be produced from a recognized area which has not yet been approved as an appellation by the AOC.
Designation of Origin Controlled – The AOC represents 53.4% of all wines from France. Currently, more than 450 separate and potentially distinct AOCs in France are used today.
There are a series of rules and regulations that go hand in hand with classification as an AOC wine. This includes restrictions on the specific geological area where the fruit is grown and the wine was made; as well as the type of grape variety authorized planted in the vineyard.
There are also specific and agreed-upon production methods, minimum alcohol levels and maximum yields, age of the vines and minimum vineyard densities required. There are also rules for harvesting and winemaking techniques as well as restrictions on the location of wineries.
In certain cases, exceptions are granted for cellar locations and occasionally for certain other rules. However, it is important to note that each quality producer produces wine with lower yields and higher alcohol levels than the minimum standard allowed by AOC law. In fact, most of the standards required for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée classification are exceeded by any serious wine producer.
Beyond the classification of appellations and vineyards, depending on the specific appellation or the AOC, vineyards and castles can also be classified. The most famous of these classifications is the 1855 classification of the Medoc, which we mentioned above. Burgundy has its own vineyard classification system, just like Saint-Émilion.
If Bordeaux is the most classified wine region of France, it is not the only appellation to classify its wines. Burgundy is the second wine region classified in France. Fortunately for Burgundy wine lovers, the classification is relatively simple to understand.
Understanding the classification of Burgundy vineyards
The main ideal that differentiates the classifications of Burgundy from that of Bordeaux is that in Bordeaux, with the exception of Saint-Emilion, it is the château or the producer that is classified. In Burgundy, they classify the terroir.
Grand Cru is the highest ranked status in Burgundy. Few vineyards are eligible for Grand Cru status. To give you an idea, around 2% of Burgundy vineyards are classified Grand Cru. On the label, only the vineyard and the classified status are listed. Grand Cru wines are produced from the lowest yields of all classified Burgundy wines.
Premier Cru is the second highest level of classification of Burgundy wines. Almost 12% of all Burgundy vineyards are classified as Premier Cru. The wines classified Premier Cru first supply the name of the village, then the vineyard on the label. If the wine is produced from several vineyards in the same village, only the name of the vineyard will appear on the label.
Village wines, the next level of classification in Burgundy lists the appellation when it is produced from several villages. This is quite common as many of these wines are produced from a myriad of villages and vineyards. For wines produced from a village and a vineyard, this information is clearly indicated on the label.
Regional wines are the lowest level of classification in the Burgundy system. The wines are not produced according to the same rules and conditions as the higher levels of classified Burgundy wines.
Chablis, even if the appellation is located in Burgundy, has its own unique classification system or its wines. In general, the Chablis classification is fairly close to what is established in Burgundy. There are, however, some differences. Chablis has 4 classification levels: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village Chablis and Petit Chablis.
Beaujolais has its own grading system, even if it is also in Burgundy. Beaujolais wines have the following different classification levels: Beaujolais AOC / AOP, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Cru.
Champagne has its own unique classification system. Interestingly, the classification of Champagne takes into account the quality level of the grapes, as well as the terroir and the terroir. In Champagne, the best wines are classified as Champagne Grand Cru, followed by Champagne Premier Cru.
Alsace wines are also classified. Alsace wines have two levels of classification, Grand Cru and Alsace AOC / AOP.
It is not only the French who like to classify things. Most, if not all of Europe benefits from classifications. It took enough time, but a new classification system for French wines was created in 2012 to replace the old and outdated classification.
The 2012 classification system is much simpler. It is based on three basic classification levels instead of four. In addition, the consumer has additional information on the new labels attached to the wine bottles, in accordance with the law. However, it should be noted that due to competition in the market, the recent ranking of 2012 has been changed as you will see below.
The new classification categories in France are:
French wine – This new classification, which replaces Table Wine, allows the consumer to know much more information about wine. Wines with the Vin de France appellation, sports wine labels which include the type of grape used to produce the wine and the specific vintage.
To be able to include the vintage and the grapes in the wine, the producer must notify his intention to the governing body before bottling.
However, with the exception of the country of France, no information is authorized as to the origin of the grapes. It is important to note that there are Vin de France wines that can be quite good, but also quite expensive.
Indeed, some wines are forced to use the Vin de France classification because the owners or winemakers have violated their naming law. For example, they included grapes not authorized in the region, or vineyard management techniques did not comply with specific AOC regulations.
Protected Geographical Indication – IGP will be used in place of the Vin de Pays. IGP wines offer producers and producers a multitude of choices because there are no restrictions on the grape varieties. The estates are also authorized to mix grapes or wine from several appellations.
Protected Designation of Origin – PDO is intended to replace the previously important AOC classification, Appellation d’Origine Controlee. Little has changed in this classification, other than the name.
Organic and biodynamic wines are now certified. To be a producer with the possibility of putting the words organic on your label, for at least three years, the winemaker must only use organic farming techniques.
The certification must be issued by one of the following agencies, regulated by the French Ministry of Agriculture: Ecocert, Qualite France, ULSAE, Agrocert, Certipaq and ACLAVE.
The domains having the right to place the word organic on their label have two possibilities. Once certified Organic Farming, they can use an EU logo or the official organic label.
Biodynamic certification is granted to estates which exploit their vineyards for at least three periods using the techniques created by Rudolf Steiner. The same organizations that certify organic producers also certify biodynamic areas: Ecocert, Qualite France, ULSAE, Agrocert, Certipaq and ACLAVE.
Additional or different certification is available, Demeter. Demeter certification is granted to areas producing wine from biodynamically certified fruits that have been produced according to the rules and regulations of the Demeter group.
Producers with SIVCBD; Biodyvin on their label is a member of the Association Syndicat International des Vignerons en Culture Bio-Dynamique.