The French wine appellation hierarchy lays claim to being the oldest national system for categorizing wine. The most prestigious classification, the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) sits atop the pyramid, each individual AOC codifying distinctive traditional practices to protect the reputation of a style of wine. Aspects of winemaking, vine growing, grape maturity, and the varietals allowed for inclusion are typical starting points for each appellation, and determine the distinction between Cornas which must be made from Syrah, and Chambertin, which is made from Pinot Noir. Each appellation was written as a separate law beginning with Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1936, which at the time was the appellation most in need of defense from counterfeit products. While AOC status is the theoretical aspiration for every French wine, large volumes of wine are also produced at lower levels, in descending order Indication Géographique Protégée (historically referred to as Vin de Pays) and Vin de France. The classification is a set of increasingly restrictive rules governing the area of production and the overall production process as one moves from Vin de France to AOC.
While appellations seem universally beneficial, a potential drawback was the restriction on creativity that an appellation might have for a producer wishing to experiment with non-traditional grape varieties and non-traditional winemaking methods. Vin de France (VdF), a category created in 2009 out of the former Vin de Table classification, was originally envisioned as a way for France to be able to compete with New World products labeled broadly by grape variety and vintage, at extremely competitive prices. Free from any geographic indication other than France itself, Vin de France freed producers to blend across regions to achieve consistency of quality and price. However, the lack of any restrictions on varietal type or area of production also invited innovative winemakers who wished to make a product otherwise prohibited by AOC laws, or who did not wish to submit their wines for tasting panel approval as required under AOC law. Thus, Vin de France is a category of wine that represents a spectrum of products ranging from supermarket-branded bag-in-box wines to some of the rarest cult wines made by the most creative and talented producers who chose not to follow their local AOC regulations.