France's appellation system could be coming in for the biggest shake-up in its 70-year history.

René Renou, president of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine), the body charged with overseeing France's 400-plus appellations, has put forward a radical series of proposals designed to reverse the slump in French wine sales.
 
Renou's proposals include tightening up the laws within AOCs, stricter policing of growers and winemakers and permitting varietal labelling on AOC wines.

But his most radical suggestion is the creation of a series of 'super-appellations' above the current AOCs, called Appellations d'Origine Contrôllées d'Excellence - or AOCEs.

Not all appellations will be considered for the new classification - and of those that are, at least 75% of that region's growers will have to vote to adhere to strict new laws on yields, pruning etc.

'The rules of accession to this category will be extremely rigorous,' said Renou.

Within the remaining AOCs, Renou plans to reward an appellation's best growers by allowing them to use the description Site et Terroir d'Excellence on their wines. The INAO is expected to award hundreds of these STEs in the near future.

The INAO has formed four sub-committees to study Renou's proposals and expects to report back at the end of 2004, with the possibility that, if approved, the plans could be implemented as soon as 2005.