Vin de France has definitely come into its own since France established the category a decade ago. Global sales of wines classified as Vin de France (VDF) now average 340 million bottles annually—that’s 10 bottles sold every second. And an increasing number of VDF wines are being recognized by the trade as high-quality and medal-worthy
The concept—strikingly innovative at the time, allowing vintners to blend wines from different regions and new combinations of grape varieties—represented a fundamental shift for a country so tied to geographic classification for its wines.
The denomination was designed to free winemakers to create wines that compete with large international brands, and it has worked. Another goal was to streamline French wine, making the wines more accessible to consumers. That worked, too. Now, a decade after the designation was first established, SevenFifty Daily is taking stock of how far VDF wines have progressed in the American wine market.
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Here, we uncover nine things savvy retail and restaurant buyers need to know about VDF wines.
1. It’s French Wine, Demystified
France’s elaborate, geography-grounded system was for decades a hurdle for Americans; retailers and sommeliers alike were challenged to translate the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) classification system and its inherent complexities to attention span-challenged consumers. Vin de France has quietly fixed that, providing a simple yet every bit as French way of presenting quality wine. In fact, VDF wines provide an excellent entry point for consumers who are exploring French wine for the first time, and can serve as a gateway for learning more about wines from France. Many well-loved international grape varieties come from France—like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon—so Vin de France also provides an approachable way for consumers to explore grape varieties.
2. Where Grapes—Not Regionality—Rule
Vin de France is built on simplicity. Anyone who studies French wine realizes within minutes that French wine is built on rules: the cépages, the geography, the yields, the aging, and more are prescribed within every appellation. Vin de France wiped that slate clean, creating a denomination to account for wines produced within French borders, but beyond the constrictions of the French categorization system. The expansive complexity of French wine is nowhere to be found among the thoroughly modern concept of vinicultural freedom.
3. Everyone Can Understand Vin de France Labels
Repeat: everyone can understand Vin de France labels. The grapes are clearly noted—and nearly always listed on the front label. The source is clear: it’s a varietal wine from France. On American shelves (or, increasingly, in case stacks) VDF wines look like most every modern international wine. As Michael Taylor, a buyer for Nugget Markets, which has 15 California locations, puts it, “Consumers want to see the varietal on the front label as it is then easier for them to understand what is in the bottle—that’s halfway to purchase.”
4. Freedom Breeds Creativity
Unlike other French appellations, Vin de France producers are free to source grapes from wherever they want within France. They can use the same grape from different growing regions, mix and match grapes from different regions, and adjust their approach each vintage. They have the freedom to find the best quality grapes regardless of region, and to be creative.
5. Vive La Diversity!
Guess what else happens when producers are empowered to freely source, blend, and label their wines? The category naturally attracts all kinds of suppliers—négociants, cooperatives, smaller independents, and multinational corporations alike to produce wine within its framework. Think of it as France’s most level wine playing field—and a decade on, the inherent laissez-faire has naturally generated palpable diversity among the offerings.
6. Approachable Wines for Casual Consumers
The clichéed perception of French wine being expensive by definition has no place in Vin de France. In fact, the quiet strength of the category can be traced at least in part to its perception as non-traditional French wine. Barbara Glunz, owner of The House of Glunz, an independent retail store in Chicago, notes, “The category allows the producer to give the casual consumer what he or she is seeking—satisfying flavor, easy drinking, and well-priced. The wines are generally low in tannin, meant for immediate enjoyment with or without food.”
7. Pros Get the Quality
Blind judgings have long been a staple of the wine trade, and the annual Best Value Vin de France Selection Tasting has become a respected showcase for the category. For 2020, 93 French wine companies submitted 435 wines to be tasted blind in Paris in February by international wine buyers from 14 different countries. The 131 winning wines (52 gold, 79 silver) represent a highly selective 30 percent of the entries. Though normally announced at ProWein (cancelled this year), the medal-winning wines are still being highlighted by restaurant and retail buyers around the world as exemplary examples of VDF wines’ quality.
8. It’s Working, Around the Globe and Here
VDF wines are not only for the French; they’re for the rest of the world. In 2019, 74 percent of sales volume was for export markets. The wines began to make a mark in the U.S. market in 2013. In six years, the volume of VDF varietal wines has multiplied sevenfold to 1.6 million cases in 2019. The U.S. is now the fourth largest market for Vin de France, representing 12 percent of volume and 16 percent of value sold.
9. On the Retail Shelf: Location, Location, Location
Ten years in the market has helped VDF wines find their footing on American shelves. Doug Jeffirs, director of wine sales for multi-outlet Binny’s Beverage Depot in Illinois, notes, “We’ve traditionally set our French wines by region. This doesn’t really work with Vin de France wines. We started placing them with relevant varietals—Chardonnays near Burgundy, Sauvignon Blancs near Loire—but as they are reaching more of a critical mass, they will get their own section at the entry to the French wine set.”