Thank you Peter Plaehn and Blake Leja for your responses last week on Jess Jackson!
This week: Alsace
Alsace created separate AOPs for its grand crus in 2011. What may have been impetus for this and what advantages/disadvantages could it have created?
There’s some great Pinot Noir in GC vineyards (notably Furstentum, among others) and separating the AOCs is likely a first step toward allowing Pinot to be labeled GC. If you look at the different AOC documents you can already see the small variations in allowances and details to lay the groundwork. After this possibly happens, the much-debated premier cru Tier could come to fruition within the Alsace AOC and mirror the Burgundian model.
I believe the driving force behind this was the success of the Burgundian model of 1er and GC. Viewing this model from a business perspective, it allows for different pricing tiers as well as higher quality wine (advantage). From the general consumers view, this could be confusing unless while your walking down you local bottle shop's aisle you are aware of the differences in the labeling laws (disadvantage). The labeling differences allows an opportunity for the Alsace AOP and the EU to educate the consumer through government funded promotions (advantage).
I agree with Blake--it does lead to a lot of consumer confusion, but also will add that it adds to professional confusion as well (how many sommeliers are really, truly well versed on the nuances of all GC sites in Alsace?). I feel like, more often than not, I see the same few GC sites represented in retail and on restaurant lists, whereas a lot of others are getting left behind in the mix.
Consumer confusion is rampant in wine in general, much less legal definitions. This doesn't really create any more than is already out there. How many Sommeliers are actually well versed in the Grand Cru of burgundy? Not too many relative to how many "Sommeliers" there are. How many can intelligently talk about the top 100 1er Cru of Burgundy? Only the best, really.
Alsace isn't even a name the general consumer would understand on a wine label. Absolutely nothing changed for that consumer in 2011. The ones that recognized Alsace Grand Cru as a mark of quality then still recognize it on the labels even as the AOC changed (how many actually noticed the AOC wording in the first place).
From that end, I no impetus. It just makes it a little easier for producers to influence minor changes in the AOC law that will allow focus on terroir. It also allows for new marketing agencies, but is there really enough financial benefit to justify those?
I don't think consumer confusion should be a deterrent here -- we seem to have no problem delighting in the complexities of Burgundy and telling anyone who will listen about them. We just have to apply the same diligence and passion to this region, and any others that are working to develop a system that encourages quality and specificity of place.