Over 80% of French wine production is AOC, Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. According to figures from INAO (French Institute for Origin and Quality Designation), there are 364 AOCs in the whole of the French winegrowing area. The Beaujolais region has twelve.
What is an AOC?
AOC designates a product where the main stages of production are carried out based on established skills and expertise in a specific geographic area. These are the factors that give a product its particular characteristics. An AOC protects the name of the wine in France, and an AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) does the same across the European Union.
So, for example, you cannot produce Chiroubles wine anywhere other than Beaujolais!
The concept of appellation is therefore very closely connected to the idea of terroir. But a terroir is much more than just a soil type, a geographic area and specific geological features. Terroir is rooted in a system of interactions between a physical and biological environment.
According to INAO it is a "defined area in which a community of people collectively develops production skills and expertise throughout its history (…)".
Strict rules therefore apply to the production of AOC wines. These rules are set out in a specifications document and monitored by the INAO.
The Beaujolais AOCs
As Beaujolais winegrowers say "it takes a generation to create a new appellation".
There are twelve AOCs in the Beaujolais region: two of which are regional and ten, municipal or local.
The oldest are Moulin-à-Vent, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Chénas and Morgon which were all given AOC status in September 1936.
They were followed by Beaujolais (1937), Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly (1938), Saint-Amour (1946), Beaujolais Villages (1950) and finally Régnié in 1988.
These AOCs are therefore a guarantee of the identity and quality of Beaujolais wines.
What is a cru?
Ten of these twelve appellations are also “crus”. What does this mean?
Cru status indicates that the wine is produced on a geographic restricted area , each cru in the Beaujolais region has to comply with particular specifications. These restrected areas are historically known for their wine reputation or more precisely for their wine quality given by the terroir (soil, climate, human factors...) .
In the Beaujolais region, only the Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages AOCs - the largest regional AOC growing area – are not crus.