The magic of words: Chaume is “grand cru” or “premier cru” or both?

The French sometimes put too much stock in the magic of words and in the value of appellations, as this story, just one of several about AOC and name wrangling, shows: In 2003 a new appellation was launched in the Loire Valley, with the blessing of the INAO of course: the AC Chaume Premier Cru, within the Coteaux du Layon region. (It’s very difficult to understand how the INAO could agree to it to start with.) This was a sweet white wine appellation in a wine region close to the city of Angers.

However, the neighbours said ‘we are not amused’ since there was already since long an appellation, and a very prestigious one (albeit virtually unknown except to the real wine nerds) called Quart de Chaume. The producers of QdC thought (understandably) that the name “Chaume Premier Cru” might give the impression that ‘plain’ Quart de Chaume was something lesser (which it is not, rather the contrary).

So they took the case to court. And won. So Chaume Premier Cru was annulled in 2005 and disappeared. Wine growers are not ones to give up easily (if they were they probably wouldn’t be wine growers), so the CPC growers tried again, now in 2007 with the name Coteaux du Layon Chaume. But not with better luck. They ran into opposition and this AOC too was annulled in May 2009.

But there’s no giving up when it comes to AOC word magic (just think of Saint Emilion’s classification that’s been five (?) times in court and through the French parliament). The latest proposal, as we read in Decanter, is that Quart de Chaume will become a Grand Cru and Chaume ‘tout court’ will become a Premier Cru. It’s not yet approved by the INAO and there’s still scope for someone not being quite happy with it, but for the moment it looks as if it will pass.

If only the French wine growers would spend a little bit more time thinking about their customers and less fighting each other in court and in the AOC system they’d have more success on the international market… More in

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