The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), which translates as “controlled designation of origin,” is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government bureau now called Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO). It is based on the concept of Le Terroir.
There are currently over 300 French wines entitled to the designation AOC on their label. The origins of AOC date to the year 1411, when Roquefort was regulated by a parliamentary decree. The Law for the Protection of the Place of Origin is a more modern version of this law in France, which was passed to specify the region and commune in which a given product must be manufactured.
In 1935, the INAO, a branch of the French Ministry of Agriculture, was created to manage the standards for the process for wines. In the Rhône wine region, Baron Pierre Le Roy Boiseaumarié, a trained lawyer and winegrower from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, successfully obtained legal recognition of the “Côtes du Rhône” appellation of origin in 1937. The AOC seal was created and mandated by French laws between 1950 and 1970. On July 2, 1990, the scope of work of the INAO was extended beyond wines to cover other agricultural products including butter, honey, cheese and lavender.
AOCs vary dramatically in size. Some cover vast expanses with a variety of climatic and soil characteristics, while others are small and highly uniform. For example, the Côtes du Rhône AOC covers around 400 square kilometers (150 sq mi), but within its area lays one of the smallest AOCs, Château-Grillet, which occupies less than 4 hectares (9.9 acres) of land.
The United States also follows the model set by the French AOC. The United States Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau even uses the legal terminology “Appellation of Wine Origin” to describe a vintage wine’s location of origin. The AVA indication on a label indicates that 85% of the wine is grown in the designated AVA. Overall, the appellation of a wine simply says where the grapes are from, although there are some other particularities.