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Alsace ‘dry’ label regulation faces delay beyond 2016

Plans for the compulsory labelling of all dry Alsace wines as dry probably will not be realised in time for the 2016 vintage as originally hoped, the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) has said.

The Alsace Vintners Association has voted in favour of adopting a premier cru designation but face a long wait before the INAO addresses the case (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Alsace Vintners Association (AVA) had hoped that the near-unanimous approval of the proposals among its members would speed up the process; however the governing body, the Institut National de L’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), must first reach a decision on proposals for stricter rules concerning Alsace sweet wines.

“The AVA was very optimistic because it was the first time that a development like this had happened with so much unanimity,” said Foulques Aulagnon, export manager at the CIVA.

“When they voted on it in the general assembly of the AVA, there were only two people against out of 25-30 representatives. It’s a real show of will from all the Alsatian winegrowers, the first time for many years we have had such unity.

“[But] the INAO is working one by one. When the vendange tardive and selection de grains nobles [cases] have been digested by them, they will start to work on our ‘sec mention’ file.”

In the spring of this year, the AVA submitted a file asking the INAO to impose an obligation on the labelling of Alsace dry white wines – wines with less than 4g/l of sugar, or 7g/l of sugar in wines with a minimum of 9g of tartaric acidity, according to EU rules.

“The reason is to give more information to the consumers but also to convince wine buyers and wine sellers about our wines’ dryness, Aulagnon explained.

“In the 1990s, a few producers let sugar be more present than today. We have had a revitalisation of the dry style of wines over the last decade, but when sommeliers have no information on the label they have no idea of what they are serving.

“For the past decade the CIVA and AVA regularly sent letters to winegrowers to say we have to give more information on the label, to give a scale of sweetness. The main idea is to introduce this obligation.

“The process in France is often very slow. The AVA has finalised the file and submitted it to the INAO, but now the INAO is working on a earlier-submitted file concerning more strict rules for vendange tardive and sélection de grains nobles Alsace wines.

“Last springtime we were thinking about application for vintage 2016 but now we are less optimistic. We are thinking about 2017 or maybe later.

Alsace premier cru plans pushed back

The delay in implementing the new ‘dry’ labelling regulation is also a blow for the AVA’s proposals to introduce a premier cru designation for Alsace wines.

The AVA agreed last year to implement a new terroir-driven hierarchy for Alsace wines, which would include a premier cru designation to exist alongside the established AOC Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru designations.

Around 150 applications from around 400 Alsace lieu-dits have been submitted for consideration by the AVA, but the INAO must address two other sets of proposals – those for stricter rules for Alsace sweet wines and those for implementing new ‘dry’ labelling regulations – before considering the AVA’s premier cru plans.

Speaking to the drinks business following the Alsace Wines press and trade tasting in London, Aulagnon also said that the UK has become the number-one market in the EU for Alsace wines in terms of price per bottle.

In the first half of 2015, the UK accounted for 5,285hl (705,000 bottles) of Alsace wine exports – a slight drop of 2.9% compared with the first half of 2014.

However the UK overtook Italy as the biggest importer of Alsace still wines by in terms of price per bottle owing to the high number of AOC Alsace lieux-dits and Grands Crus sold in UK, Aulagnon said.

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