French Ban Wood Chips

Winemaking with wood chips allowed only on an experimental basis.

Just two months after the EU legalized the use of wood chips, France has banned them for use other than on an "experimental basis."

The use of wood chips in French AOC winemaking was banned last week by INAO, the regulatory body in charge of wines carrying the AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) quality mark, despite recent support for their use by the French government, and their legalization last September by the European Union.

AOC wines represent more than half of total French wine production.

"This decision basically means we do not have the same rights as our competitors," said a disappointed Roland Feredj director of Bordeaux's regional wine body, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB).

Feredj said that what was important was not wood chips themselves, but the right to be able to decide whether to use them. He also pointed out the ambiguity of the new ruling, which will allow appellations to "experiment" with chips.

Prior to the ruling seven appellations—Anjou, Muscadet, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Medoc, Haut-Médoc and

 French barrels

 Photo credit: Vernou Barrelmakers, Cognac

and Côtes du Rhône—were granted special dispensations, allowing experimental use of wood chips as of the 2006 harvest.

The main attraction of chips is the vast difference in cost compared to traditional oak barrels. Barrels cost about 66 euros per 100 liters of wine, while chips cost about five.

The new ruling, adopted November 9th, states that wood chips do not fit with the spirit of "appellations" and could strain the link with "terroir." Appellation, the name of the place where the product is produced, (AOC Bordeaux or AOC Medoc for example), and terroir—the soil and climate of this place—are central to the French purist concept of wine.

The New World, by comparison, is seen to base its wine identity on grape variety and use of easy to remember names—something that has helped it commercially outstrip French wines all over the world.

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