Saint Verny (Le)Chardonnay from Cotes d'Auvergne was our tasting winner from two weeks ago while the (Le)Pinot Noir from Saint Verny came in second in popularity based on sales that same weekend. While the ancient history and culture of the area documented here in the past week remains accurate, recent history in d'Auvergne has changed considerably.
In 2006 in response to the crisis in the French wine industry, Bernard Pomel authored the "Pomel Report" to the government urging a simplification of French wine law to facilitate commercial sales. At that time sales were so poor producers were converting Bordeaux into industrial alcohol to maintain pricing and a revenue stream for the producers. International competition from the new world had caused the dropoff in sales so the theory was to de-cryptify the label language on French wines to encourage international sales.
The fundamental change in law was to eliminate the VDQS quality level in French Wine Law. For most of the twentieth century there have been four quality levels in France. "Appellation Controlee" (AOC), the top quality level, guarantees government recognition that the product in the bottle must be from a distinct delimited region with the established grape varieties of that region made in a manner consistent with traditional practices of that region. VDQS (Delimited Wine of Superior Quality) was the second quality level and also maintained much of the same "certitudes" of AOC, just not guaranteeing the same quality level. "Vin de Pay" is the third level and it allowed for higher yields and a larger regional character for those wines. The fourth level is Vin de Table which is a catchall term for no regional restrictions and wines with no place name other than France.
With the ending of the VDQS category, all VDQS wines could apply for AOC status and gradually they have. Cotes d'Auvergne is now an AOC and may establish their own style of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as their "brand" without the encumbrance of historic models, ie., Gamay no longer must be included in the blend. Chardonnay, never highly regarded in the region, has now been elevated as a commercial priority and the quality has coorespondingly improved.
Here is what I really like. Along with the thrust to improve and elevate d'Auvergne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, there is a project concurrently to study 15 ancient grape varieties from the area to determine if they have commercial potential for the future. A discovery from the past is always welcome.