Words by: Simon Difford
Appellation d’origine contrôlée, often known by the acronym 'AOC' literally translates as meaning 'controlled designation of origin'. This is a French certification granted to certain geographical production areas of wines, spirits, cheeses and other agricultural products and is based on the concept of the 'terroir' (soil) and micro climatic conditions being key to the flavour of the final product
While this is true - at least to an extent - AOC designations also serve to ensure certain production processes and qualitative specifications. They also act to restrict production to that specified region so protecting producers within that region from competition from further afield and other parts of the world selling similar products under the AOC protected name.
The origins of AOC date back to the 15th century, when Roquefort cheese was regulated by French parliamentary decree but the first wine AOC was not introduced until 1937 when a trained lawyer and winegrower from Châteauneuf-du-Pape obtained legal recognition of Côtes du Rhône.
What constitutes an AOC falls under the auspices of the French government bureau, 'Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO)'. Formed on 30-July 1935 this branch of the French Ministry of Agriculture was created to manage the creation of AOCs for French wine regions. French law dictates that it is illegal to sell a product protected by one of the AOC geographical indications if it does not fully comply with exacting criteria prescribed by the AOC.