Friday, April 18, 2014

How Algeria created Europe's appellation system

Check out that "Percentage of world exports"
Without Algeria, Europe might not have the appellation system it uses today.

It's an incredible story published this week by two researchers in Belgium, Giulia Meloni and Johan Swinnen, in the Journal of Wine Economics. The paper is very easy to read and I recommend reading the original in its entirety, but here is the Cliff Notes summary.

In the mid-1930s, Algeria was responsible for an astounding 67% of all wine exports worldwide.

Most of the wine was being grown by Frenchmen (Algeria was a colony then) and sold to France. Much of it was being blended with French wine.

This situation, which couldn't have pleased the Muslim natives, arose from necessities on the other side of the Mediterranean. France's wine industry was devastated by phylloxera in the 1870s. Many people from the south of France moved to Algeria when their vines died, bringing wine know-how. They were able to get agricultural loans because France suddenly had a huge shortfall in wine for its domestic market. The French were so desperate, they drank wine made from raisins imported from Greece. From 1880 to 1900, Algeria's vineyard plantings increased from 20,000 hectares to 150,000.

When people figured out how to graft vines onto American rootstock, France's vineyards began to recover in the 1890s. The protectionist French government slapped huge tariffs on wine imported from Italy and Spain. But Algeria was a French colony, so its industry grew even faster without competition.

In 1905, the French governor general of Algeria entered into a contract to sell 5 million liters of wine to England. The British importer took out ads promoting the new French wine and comparing it to Bordeaux and Burgundy. Wealthy, powerful vignerons in these regions were outraged, and organized. They accused Algerian producers of making "non-natural wines."

Within a month of the English contract, France passed its first law regulating "frauds and falsifications" of wine. One of the provisions required that the wine had to have a clear indication of its origin.

Within the next seven years, legal boundaries were drawn for Bordeaux and Champagne, as well as Armagnac and Cognac. The premium producers were protected, but growers in southern France also wanted help competing with Algeria.

World War I and the arrival of phylloxera in Algeria slowed the momentum, but by 1930 Algeria was producing oceans of wine again: nearly 1/3 as much as the entire French mainland.

Between 1931 and 1935, the French government introduced a series of laws to stifle its citizen/growers in Algeria, including taxes on high yields, which were always much bigger under the African sun. The culmination was the 1935 law creating Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which regulated grape varieties, yield and minimum alcohol content.

France successfully pushed for its AOC system to be the basis of European wine law. So for all of those AOC-based wine regulations across Europe, we have the early 1900s Algerian wine industry to thank.

Read the entire article in PDF format here.

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1 comment:

wineORL said...

Title is somewhat misleading. Algeria was the victim here