January 6, 2017 Leave a comment
The first-ever AOC goes to…Roquefort Cheese! As a matter of fact, Roquefort Cheese was protected by a Parliamentary Decree in the year 1411 and as such, may be credited with starting the entire idea of terroir-based certification for agricultural products. Several centuries later, once the French government created the bureau of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (later called the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité [INAO]), Roquefort Cheese was awarded the first-ever AOC in 1925.
I can hear you saying to yourselves, “but I thought this was a wine blog!” And indeed it is. But it’s always best to start with first things first, and it appears that the concept of the AOC was first introduced for cheese—which seems apropos, as cheese is an icon of French gastronomy (and thus agriculture). There are now (by most counts) 36 AOC-designated French cheeses, and in the 1950s the concept was opened up to other types of products, which now include Le Puy green lentils, chicken from Bresse, and lavender essential oil from Haute-Provence.
Which leads us to another issue: What was the first French wine to be granted AOC status? Most people will say it was Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is at least partially true; however, if we look at the rest of the story, it is more accurate to state that Châteauneuf-du-Pape was one of the first.
Here are the true facts and figures about the first time an AOC was granted for wine: In 1935, the Comite’ National des Appellations d’Origin (CNAO) for wine and spirits was created (recall that a similar group had been created in the 1920s for cheese).
By early 1936, the CNAO had received and approved six applications for protected designations of origin for French wine. On May 15, 1936, French President Albert Lebrun signed the first six decrees for wine AOCs into law. The designations, published in the Official Journal on May 17, were (in order of their appearance in the journal) Arbois, Tavel, Cognac, Cassis, Monbazillac, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
As for the rest of the story concerning Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it goes back to 1894 when there was rampant fraud concerning the wines of the area. In response, the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape formed a Syndicat Viticole presided over by the mayor of the town. The Syndicat worked for years and in 1919 managed to pass a law that defined the geographic boundaries of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine-producing region. This was one of the earliest geographical designations in France.
While it helped, the 1919 wine appellation law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape did not put a stop to the ongoing fraud, and it was soon seen as too general and essentially limited to the question of geographical boundaries.
By 1923, the winegrowers decided it was time to enforce more specific legislation in order to protect their appellation. A delegation of wine growers went to Château Fortia and asked its owner, Baron Le Roy (a lawyer and winegrower), to help. Soon thereafter, on October 4th, 1923, the first meeting of the Winegrowers Union of Châteauneuf-du-Pape took place, and Baron Le Roy was elected President.
The newly-formed Winegrowers Union met many times to codify and define all the conditions necessary to entitle wines to the use of the name of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. After presenting their case to the court in the Commune of Orange, the court found that there was no precedent for the legal definition of a wine, and assigned the case to a panel of experts. This panel was tasked with establishing the legal foundation for the “conditions of territorial origin and faithful, constant, and local traditions concerning the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.” After four years of deliberations, the panel of experts published their report, and on November 21, 1933 a law was passed by the Cour de Cassation (French court of last resort) that defined the geographic boundaries and production requirements of the wine known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is believed that this was the first set of laws in all of France concerning not just geographic boundaries but also production parameters for a specific wine.
So…was Châteauneuf-du-Pape the first AOC? Well, not exactly. There were five other AOCs established on the same day, and Arbois—with the first listing in the Journal—might want to claim the first spot for their own. However, Baron le Roy always insisted that his application on behalf of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first to be presented to the CNAO and the first to be accepted—so why not give it to him? What do you think?
References/for more information:
- Robinson, J., & Harding, J. (2015). The Oxford Companion to Wine (4th ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… firstname.lastname@example.org