«The introduction of «appellations d'origine» in Europe and Spain: wine types and wine quality. Juan Pan-Montojo (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) ...»
- the central position of France both within the group of producing countries and within the the group of importing countries, that enabled it to expand its technical standards and political solutions through bilateral agreements and through the O.I.V..
- the spread of corporatist ideology in continental Europe as an alternative to growing anticapitalistic political projects: corporatism was an important element in the development of appellations both because it gave a new political value to sector and geographic groups defending concrete interests and because it backed "natural" representations of production against
Appellations of origin which had been born with the support of large wine houses and wine merchants and their political lobbies in the beginning of the century, opened the way to a much more general public regulation they rejected in general terms. The internal dynamic of Old and New Worlds: the Global Challenges of Rural History | International Conference, Lisbon, ISCTE-IUL, 27-30 January 2016 appellations, administrative activity and pressure from organised viticulturists turned controls inevitable.
The transition towards controlled appellations had another effect: its generalisation to wines that did not enjoy any fame. The idea of appellation as a control of quality obliged houses with known labels to come under their shelter and accept public controls: they could not afford being identified as not capable of meeting general requirements. By the same token, those wines that did not use appellations became automatically common wines. From the existence of controlled appellations onwards, it was an administrative act the one that could create prestige at the eyes of the consumers and save wines from the difficult world of pure competition via prices.
Therefore, appellations became a necessary condition for almost any policy of product differentiation. A process that was interesting for bureaucrats and politicians who wanted to increase the average quality of commercialised wines, to defend them against temperance and anti-alcohol movements, augment fiscal revenues and improve stabilising policies. It was a process obviously fostered by producers' associations, in a clear attempt to escape the tendency to overproduction that characterised the market for common wine43.
Controlled appellations had however clear costs. They explain why until recently and in a very different context, the amount of European wine sold under appellation has been relatively small.
In the first place, appellations faced the political cost of decisions concerning wine-types (that place in a very diverse position existing producers and their practices) and the financial costs of establishing permanent controls. They were two very different types of costs that some governments tried to transfer to producers. Self-regulation was not very easy either, given the large amount of people, their contradictory interests, and the unequal and heterogeneous nature of those involved in any such operation. Self-regulation tended to result into flexible norms, unable to fix a wine with specific character. In the second place there was a limit in the amount of wine to be protected by controlled appellations because their creation had to be followed by a profound transformation of productive practices. Many wine-growers were unable to face the necessary investments. Others were unwilling to alter their cultivation techniques and their choice of varieties without price controls, since it could lead to the loss of investments because of the monopsonic position of wine-merchants and wine producers. That is why, very often large landowners or wine companies that owned their vineyards were the only ones that decided to join in appellations. Wherever grape-production and wine-production were separate the appellations were much less successful.
Therefore, the wine market that was born out of the political options of the 1930s was divided between a minor group of wines under controlled appellations and a much larger section of common wines. The first market included some of the 19th century export wines and some newcomers that enjoyed a local prestige or obtained it through appellations, and was characterised by higher prices and more stable sales. Did this have anything to do with wine quality? Quality is a polysemic concept and in the wine world it reflects high prices for differentiated products (premium wines), on the one hand, and good traits at different levels, on the other. Those good traits are neither universal nor static. Truthfulness is about the only one that can be always included among those that characterise a good wine: it should correspond to what we expect from it in terms of chemical composition, organoleptic features, and origin.
Controlled appellations facilitated, when they introduced effective control mechanisms, a more transparent wine market. In the second place, appellations contributed to change the meaning of quality: terroirs, varieties and the introduction of good “traditional”(!) practices helped to create a new understanding of wine quality. However, they were not born to improve quality as we have seen, but to protect certain economic groups: an original orientation that has continued. Roudié (1988) points to a quasi-total correlations between villages with a syndicat and subregional appellations in the Bordelais.
Old and New Worlds: the Global Challenges of Rural History | International Conference, Lisbon, ISCTE-IUL, 27-30 January 2016 over time until today. Quality –in the sense of transparency and healthiness- was the aim of the general wine legislation, a contentious policy field that was to a certain extent by-passed by the regulation of premium wines.
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