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Australia needs its own appellation system

We often hear of an appellation system being mooted for Australia.

An appellation system is a method of labelling wines according to the origin of the wine in the bottle, produced under strict conditions and regulations and monitored by a controlling body. For example, Sandalford Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon or Sandalford Mt Barker-Margaret River Shiraz.

This system would ensure that upon buying a bottle of chardonnay labelled Margaret River or Adelaide Hills, fthe consumer is getting exactly that product and not some imposter bottle on sold.

I asked Bill Crappsley, head wine maker at Sandalford Wines for his opinion on the subject.

Bill believes such a system of regulation and monitoring of the wine industry will promote the quality and integrity of Australian wine and the industry itself.

Australia currently has very strict health regulations and labelling laws.

Winemakers are required to list varieties when they constitute a certain percentage of the wine, the region from which they are grown and additives or preservatives that may have been used in production.

When further pressed as to whether the French appellation system would be appropriate for the Australian wine industry, Bill believes it to be too restrictive on winemakers’ choices.

In France, the Institut National De Appellations d’Origine et Eaux-de-Vie (INAO) is the government appointed controlling body for their appellation system. This body dictates and enforces regulations that control almost every aspect of wine production in France.

They dictate the variety of grapes permitted to be grown, the borders of the districts and regions, the time of harvesting and the method of picking the grapes, where and how the grapes are crushed, the alcohol and sugar content, how many litres per acre may be harvested, the use of wood in the fermentation process, even the method of pruning, trellising and watering of the vines.

These rules apply specifically to the top wines produced by the old growth chateaux which account for almost 40 per cent of all wine produced in France.

In theory, these practices ensure premium wine producers maintai their standards and consequently the reputation of French wines.

However, some of the rules can be circumvented with special permission from the INAO if required.

The problem with the French system, as I see it, is a number of wines in the super-premium price range — $80 and above — are of average to poor quality.

Just because you harvested grapes from a particular plot within a distinctive region where the whole production has adhered to specific rules does not mean the resultant wine is of premium quality.

The development of the shiraz/ cabernet blend in Australia illustrates Bill Crappsley’s opinion of the restrictive nature of the French system were it applied to Australia.

We produce a number of excellent versions of this style for the world market and this would not have been possible under the French system.

Our wine industry is comparatively young. We are still discovering new regions and trialling what grows best where and how.

Perhaps Australia’s answer to the French appellation system could involve an body of experts in the fields of viticulture, winemaking and marketing. Their expertise can be utilised in appraising different regions and conducting annual tasting and viticultural reports.

The enforcement and verification of labelling requirements of the industry is another consideration.

Perhaps this body could work on a grape register in the tradition of a liquor register. Grape growers would submit an annual list of recipients and quantities of grapes supplied, with wine producers acting similarly.

A producer would have some serious explaining to do if he released 20,000 litres of Margaret River Chardonnay when he only sourced 10,000 litres.

It is possible to create an appellation system that is fair to wine producers and growers alike. But it needs to be an Australian system.

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