All Is Not Well Between Two Regions Producing The Methode Ancestrale Style Of Sparkling Wine

Posted: Jan 20, 2017

A French wine war that has been brewing for some time has bubbled to the surface, with two appellations at loggerheads over a rosé wine.

One of the French appellation contrôlée regions for Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wines, Clairette de Die, has been given the green light to produce a rosé version, despite an ongoing battle with the appellation Bugey-Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale, which has hitherto been the only one to make a rosé.

Until now, Bugey-Cerdon has been the only pink Méthode Ancestrale AOC wine. In a story that involves disputed historical facts, jealous protective practices and containing a David versus Goliath aspect too, these two relatively obscure French appellations have been at war since the Clairette de Die growers first revealed that they were applying to the INAO for the appellation to include rosé.

The two appellations in dispute lie at either end of the French Alps. Cerdon lies west of Geneva, on the foothills of the southern Jura mountains and Clairette de Die's vineyards are on the foothills of the Vercors mountains, east of Valence and the Rhône Valley. Both have vineyards at relatively high altitude up to about 500 meters, ideal for growing grapes for sparkling wines.

The méthode ancestrale involves a single fermentation, which is stopped, and then allowed to re-start when the wine is bottled – there is no added sugar or yeast. It is a method that pre-dates the Champagne method and Clairette de Die may have been one of the first to use it, gaining its AOC in 1942.

The semi-sweet white Clairette de Die Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine is made from minimum 75 percent Muscat à Petit Grains, with up to 25 percent of the Clairette grape. The new appellation rules for rosé Clairette de Die require the same mix, but with a minimum of 5 percent of red grapes, the naturally-occurring red version of Muscat à Petit Grains and Gamay. The latter must make up no more than 10 percent of the blend. Gamay is grown traditionally in only part of the area, where red and rosé still wines are made under the Châtillion-en-Diois AOC.

From the vineyards of Cerdon the northern Beaujolais can be viewed on a clear day, and the dominant variety for its semi-sweet sparkling rosé is Gamay. There are also small plantings of Jura's Poulsard grape, which is permitted in the blend. Bugey (with Cerdon as a named cru) was elevated to AOC in 2009, having previously been VDQS since 1958.

Cerdon produces fewer than 2 million bottles annually. Clairette de Die currently produces about 12m bottles of white méthode ancestrale sparkling wine and estimates that in future it may produce up to an additional 10 per cent as rosé.

The Goliath in this story is Jaillance, the very successful marketing and distribution arm of the Clairette de Die co-operative, which represents a massive 75 percent of the region's production. With obvious great influence in the region and controlling most of the Châtillon en Diois vineyards, it is keen to be allowed to make and market a rosé.

Winegrower Jean-Luc Guillon represents the Bugey syndicate and is a partner in Cerdon's largest producer, Lingot-Martin, which makes 20 percent of the region's production. The remainder is made by a large number of smaller producers. Cerdon is generally a success, selling out its annual production easily and has a small influx of young vignerons setting up in the region. Guillon feels a duty to protect them.

He explained that, until 2015, no-one in Cerdon had any idea that the Clairette de Die vignerons were planning on applying to the INAO to produce a rosé. Together with Limoux and Gaillac, the two other AOC Méthode Ancestrale regions, the four had always worked well to protect the méthode ancestrale term from misuse by other non-appellation areas.

Guillon believes that by giving Clairette de Die the right to produce a méthode ancestrale rosé that includes Gamay in the blend, for which in his view there is no historical, local precedent, the INAO has given permission for a "marketing appellation", setting a dangerous precedent.

He fears that the use of Gamay, a grape that can be vinified easily in large volumes through thermo-vinification methods, will open the floodgates for other appellation requests from, for example, Beaujolais or Touraine in the Loire, who have no traditions of making méthode ancestrale sparkling wines.

Indeed, in 2015, Jean Burjade, the managing director of Inter-Beaujolais told journalists at a press conference in London that the region was keen to work towards having a low-alcohol, medium-sweet sparkling appellation. In the meantime, unless the Conseil d'Etat accepts the arguments from Cerdon, it is expected that Jaillance and several other Clairette de Die producers will launch a rosé before June this year.

By Wink Lorch | Posted Friday, 20-Jan-2017

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