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Regions

Comprehensive description of all European growing areas, their grape varieties, traditions and legal rules with maps.

Description to France

The Republic of France with its capital Paris covers 632,734 km². It is an intercontinental state in Western Europe with overseas territories. The national territory is located on all continents with the exception of Asia. The European part of the national territory (France métropolitaine) covers 543,940 km² (85%) and borders Spain and Andorra to the south-west, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy to the north and east, and Monaco to the south-east. The island of Corsica (8,760 km²) is a French territorial entity with special status. It is much closer to Italy than France.

Frankreich - politische Karte

The overseas territories outside the heartland are known as "Départements et régions d'outre-mer" (DOM) and cover 88,794 km² (roughly the same as Austria). They are former French colonies. These are Guadeloupe and Martinique (island groups in the Caribbean), French Guiana (in the north of South America on the Atlantic Ocean between Brazil and Suriname), Réunion (island in the Indian Ocean) and Mayotte (island north-west of Madagascar).

The country is administratively divided into 23 regions with a total of 101 departments (96 of which are in Europe). Understandably, there is only significant viticulture in the European area. The wine-growing areas are distributed fairly evenly over three quarters of the surface area, especially along the many bodies of water (see below).

History

Compared to Greece and Italy, France is a relatively young wine-growing country. The first vines were introduced in the 6th century BC by the Greeks, who founded Massalia (lat. Massillia = Marseille) in the south-west on the Mediterranean coast. At this time, the land later called Gaul by the Romans was inhabited by various Celtic tribes (Allobroges, Ambians, Arvernes, Biturians, Cenomanians and others in France, Norics in Bavaria and Austria).

A lively trade developed and the Greeks met the demand. When they immigrated to the Po Valley in the 5th century, they learnt about Italian wine and began to import it. The French had therefore been consuming wine for a long time before they began to cultivate it themselves on a large scale. The conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) led to the systematic spread of wine in the Rhône valley in the 1st century, in Burgundy and Bordeaux in the 2nd century and in the Loire in the 3rd century. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (232-282) lifted the ban imposed by Emperor Domitian (51-96) and ordered the planting of vines throughout Gaul in the middle of the 3rd century.

Frankreich - Probus und Karl der Große

Charlemagne

The King of the Franks and later Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) gave decisive impetus to viticulture in present-day France through his decrees. The Catholic order of Cistercians was founded in the monastery of Cîteaux in Burgundy in 1098 and quickly spread throughout Europe. The monks perfected viticulture in terms of soil type selection, grape variety selection and winemaking, which had an impact throughout Europe. However, the Benedictine order, whose most famous member was probably Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715), the "inventor" of assemblage, the skilful blending of wines, made an equally significant contribution to viticulture. It is also worth mentioning that wine was included in the French revolutionary calendar, and September was given the name Vendèmiaire (wine month).

Bordeaux classification

The famous Bordeaux classification took place in 1855. This had a major influence on the later quality class systems, which vary greatly from region to region. Shortly afterwards, the country was the starting point of the greatest and most comprehensive disaster in the history of viticulture, when phylloxera and powdery and downy mildew began their campaign of destruction across Europe from the 1860s onwards. France was particularly badly affected, with over three-fifths (700,000 hectares) of its vineyards destroyed. At the same time, however, the "Golden Years of Bordeaux" signalled a new beginning when vineyards were planted on a large scale in the Médoc.

The concept of terroir

In France, it was recognised early on that a wine with unmistakable characteristics is produced on a specific soil, under the influence of the local microclimate and specially selected grape varieties. The Cistercians laid the foundations as early as the Middle Ages. The term terroir was coined in the first third of the 20th century. In the 1920s, vineyard owner Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié (1890-1967) described the ideal grape varieties for Châteauneuf-du-Pape based on the typical soil and climate in an area he defined. Further impetus came from Joseph Capus (1868-1947), who together with Boiseaumarié is considered the initiator of the appellation system.

Wine-growing regions

France was the first country to geographically map its wine-growing regions. This was done by defining legally valid areas and boundaries from which the specific quality of a wine can be clearly derived. This is clearly and unmistakably defined by the appellation in question. The better the wine, the more precise the regulations and, as a rule, the smaller the area. The special system of "controlled origin" is described under Appellation d'Origine Protégée; it is controlled by the INAO authority. The wine-growing areas are mainly located along the many rivers such as the Dordogne, Garonne, Gironde, Loire and Rhône, as well as their numerous tributaries. Under the protection and supervision of the INAO, there are around 400 AOP areas(quality wines) and around 100 IGP areas(regional wines). In contrast to Italy (where this is 100% identical), there is hardly any correspondence between the wine-growing regions and the political borders:

Frankreich - Karte von Frankreich und Bordeauzx

Wine-growing region

Départements

Main towns

hectares

Armagnac Gers, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne Also 12.000
Bordeaux Gironde Bordeaux 113.000
Burgundy Côte d'Or, Saône-et-Loire, Nièvre, Sâone-et-Loire Dijon 40.000
Champagne Ardennes, Aube, Marne, Haute-Marne Épernay, Reims 34.000
Cognac Charente Cognac 75.000
Alsace Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin Strasbourg 15.000
Jura Jura Lons-le-Saunier 1.900
Corsica Corse-du-Sud, Haute-Corse Ajaccio 7.500
Languedoc Ardèche, Ariège, Aveyron, Haute-Loire, Gard, Gers, Hautes-Pyrénées, Hérault, Lot, Lòzere, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Orientales Montpellier, Toulouse 201.000
Loire Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe, Vendée Angers, Nantes, Saumur 70.000
Lorraine Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, Vosges Metz 125
Provence Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, Vaucluse,
Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes
Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Marseille, Nice 25.000
Rhône Ain, Ardèche, Drôme, Isère, Loire, Rhône, Savoie, Haute-Savoie Lyon, Montélimar 80.000
Roussillon Pyrénées-Orientales Perpignan 23.000
Savoy Haute-Savoie, Savoie Chambéry 2.100
South-west France Arriège, Aude, Aveyron, Cantal, Charente, Charente-Maritim, Dordogne, Gers, Gironde, Hautes-Pyrénées, Landes, Lot, Lot-et-Garonne,
Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Tarn
Angoulême, Carcassonne, Montauban 160.000

Grape varieties and vineyards

Different philosophies and styles prevail with regard to grape varieties. In the south and south-west, especially in Bordeaux, red wines in particular are blended from several varieties, the classic cuvées for which the term Bordeaux blend is used. In the more northerly regions, however, such as Chablis, Alsace, Loire, Savoy and especially Burgundy, the wines are usually made from a single grape variety. The system of vineyard sites and the associated classification system is particularly pronounced in Burgundy. Between 1988 and 2010, around 180,000 hectares of vineyards were cleared as part of EU grubbing-up programmes. This mainly affected Languedoc-Roussillon.

There are 70,000 winegrowing businesses with an average of nine hectares of vineyards. Around 45% process the grapes themselves and produce 55% of the production, the rest are supplied to winegrowers' co-operatives. They produce 45% red wines, 43% white wines (the majority in brandy) and 12% rosé wines. Around 62% are AOP wines, 18% IGP wines and 20% Vin de France.

In 2022, the vineyards covered 795,286 hectares of vines and the wine production volume was 45.6 million hectolitres. This puts France among the world leaders. The grape variety index with the top 50 (Kym Anderson statistics):

Grape variety Colour Synonyms or French name Hectare
Merlot red - 108.483
Trebbiano Toscano white Ugni Blanc 78.842
Garnacha Tinta red Grenache Noir 78.631
Syrah red - 62.211
Chardonnay white - 47.451
Cabernet Sauvignon red - 46.555
Cabernet Franc red - 32.327
Mazuelo red Carignan 31.760
Pinot Noir red - 31.602
Sauvignon Blanc white - 28.084
Gamay red Gamay Noir 24.095
Cinsaut red Picardan Noir 15.930
Pinot Meunier red - 12.130
Sémillon white - 10.234
Melon de Bourgogne white Melon 9.550
Chenin Blanc white - 9.432
Viognier white - 8.823
Monastrell red Mourvèdre 8.754
Colombard white - 8.441
Muscat Blanc / Muscat white - 7.333
Cot red Côt, Malbec, Pressac 6.100
Garnacha Blanca white Grenache Blanc 5.130
Vermentino white Rollé 4.642
Riesling white - 4.025
Marselan red - 3.662
Gewürztraminer / Traminer white Gentil Rose Aromatique, Savagnin Blanc 3.320
Caladoc red - 3.062
Gros Manseng white - 3.046
Pinot Gris white - 2.867
Alicante Henri Bouschet red Alicante Bouschet 2.607
Tannat red - 2.513
Muscat d'Alexandrie white - 2.462
Auxerrois white Auxerrois Blanc 2.409
Muscat d'Hamburg red - 2.325
Clairette white Blanquette, Clairet, Clairette Blanche 2.042
Grolleau Noir red - 1.949
Aligoté white - 1.927
Roussanne white Petite Roussette, Roussanne Blanc 1.831
Macabeo white Maccabéo 1.657
Piquepoul Blanc white Picboul, Picpoul de Pinet 1.564
Folle Blanche white - 1.554
Mauzac Blanc white Mauzac, Mausac 1.526
Sangiovese red - 1.503
Fer red Fer Servadou 1.502
Marsanne white Marsanne Blanche, Roussette Grosse 1.484
Muscadelle white - 1.412
Garnacha Roja white Grenache Gris 1.253
Petit Manseng white Manseng Blanc, 1.247
Pinot Blanc white Auvernat Blanc 1.181
Aramon Noir red - 1.167

Wine categories / quality levels

In August 2009, the EU wine market regulation came into force with fundamental changes to wine designations and quality levels. The designation AOC may continue to be used as an alternative. The three quality levels are (see also in detail under Quality system):

  • Vin de France (formerly Vin de table or table wine) = wine
  • IGP (formerly Vin de pays) = country wine
  • AOP (formerly AOC or AC) = quality wine

Vin de France (Vins sans Indication Géographique)

Wines without a geographical indication. It replaced the former designation Vin de table. Grape varieties from all over France are permitted. There are wines with and without an indication of grape variety and/or vintage. The INAO is not responsible, as is the case for quality wines and country wines, but the Anivin de France association.

IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée)

Wines with a protected geographical indication. Replaces the former designation Vin de pays. The wines are subject to less strict production guidelines. Although recommended grape varieties and maximum yields are defined, there is more room for manoeuvre than with AOP. Grape varieties other than those recommended can also be used. A hierarchical distinction is made between IGP régionales, IGP départementales and IGP de petites zones according to size or scope. The six largest regional IGP areas are Atlantique, Comté Tolosan, Comtés Rhodaniens, Méditerranée, Pays d'Oc and Val de Loire.

VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure)

This level was created in 1949 as a preliminary stage for the AOC rank. The production guidelines must now be prepared according to AOP standards and the link to the terroir must be proven. These wines were thus classified as AOP.

AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) or
AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée)

The new top of the quality pyramid. Compared to the old AOC, controls by independent bodies have been strengthened. There are three levels: AOP Cru (wines from a vineyard, site or parcel), AOP communal (wines from a commune) and AOP regional (wines from a region). See Appellation d'Origine Protégée for more details.

Special classification systems

In addition to the EU-compliant quality levels, there are sometimes confusing classification systems in France that vary from region to region. These are the Bordeaux classification for Médoc and Sauternes from 1855, the Burgundy classification, as well as the Graves and Saint-Émilion classifications, which are carried out at regular intervals. See a complete list under Grand Cru.

Institutions and committees

Influential French wine authors and wine critics are or were Michel Bettane, Guy Bonnefoit, Pierre Brejoux, Thierry Desseauve, Patrick Dussert-Gerber, Odette Kahn, Alexis Lichine, Émile Peynaud, Olivier Poussier, André Simon and Christian Vanneque. The most important wine magazines and guides include the four publications Guide des Vins, Hachette, Le Guide des Meilleurs Vins de France and Le Grand Guide des Vins.

In addition to national organisations, there are also some important international winegrowing institutions based in France for research and development, standards and norms, as well as professional associations. These are CPVO (Community Plant Variety Office), FIJEV (Federation Internationale des Journalistes et Ecrivains des Vins et Spiritueux), IFV (Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin), INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine), INRAE (Institut national de recherche pour l'agriculture, l'alimentation et l'environnement), ISVV (Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin), OIV (Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin) and UPOV (Union internationale pour la Protection des Obtentions Végétales).

Map of France: from TUBS - adapted, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Probus: History of Vienna WIKI
Charlemagne: From Albrecht Dürer - Public domain, Link
France: From French vineyards, France blank
Eric Gaba(Sting - fr:Sting) derivative work: Sdaubert (talk)
derivative work: Furfur (talk), CC BY-SA 2.5, Link
Bordeaux: By Domenico-de-ga, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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