NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

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NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Tim York » Thu Feb 21, 2008 9:22 am

The March number of la Revue du Vin de France (“RVF”) contains a rather turgid article on the reform of French wine rules in the context of new European regulations. I extract below the main points.

A three tier system of appellations will be put in place.

The third (bottom) tier will consist of “vins de table” (table wines). With effect from the 2009 vintage, “vins de table” will be allowed to put grape variety and vintage on their labels. Grapes may be blended from any part of France. There will no longer be any constraints on production methods, for example on yields and irrigation, other than those of international wine industry norms (e.g. the banning of flavouring additives, certain chemical stabilisers, etc.). It is hoped that this will permit the appearance of French commercial wine brands to compete with those of the New World. “Vins de Pays” will disappear progressively after 2009.

The second tier will consist of “vins de territoire” (territorial wines). Into this category will fall the more ambitious artisan produced wines which are “vins de pays” at present, existing regional appellations such as “Bordeaux” and “Bourgogne” and regroupings of existing lesser AOCs. An example of the last is the regrouping into “Côtes de Bordeaux” of the appellations Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac and Francs. 50 to 100 appellations are expected to disappear in the next few years. The creation of new appellations will not be allowed.

The first (top) tier will consist of “vins de terroir” (terroir wines) which will reinforce the AOC system at the top level. The intention is to guarantee quality as well as origin. New style tasting committees for accepting or refusing wines will replace local vignerons, too subject to complaisance with poor quality and jealousy of outstanding performers, with more independent persons such as journalists, oenologists, wine merchants, etc. The AOCs will draw up new specifications to replace existing INAO application decrees; it is intended that these should be in place for the 2008 vintage.

These changes will be supervised by the new head of INAO, Yves Bénard, who has been a senior executive of Moët et Chandon and is therefore familiar with world-wide marketing of a quality brand.

Other Europe wide features of the reform are –

- The progressive end of subsidies for the distillation of surpluses
- The grubbing up of 175,000 hectares of vines
- Complete freedom of planting rights from 2015 (but only from 2018 in France)
- Budgetary means available from Brussels comparable to the present budget of € 1.3 billion annually (currently largely used for distillation). France’s share in 2009 is € 172 million.
- Producing countries will be in charge of application, including the allocation of European budgetary help to promotion campaigns.

Obviously the above begs lots of questions which the RVF article does not answer.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Mark Lipton » Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:48 pm

Fascinating, Tim. Thank you for posting this. What are your thoughts on the proposals? My own follow:

1. The addition of vintage to VdT is a no-brainer and long overdue
2. The replacement of VdP with "vins de Territoire" and the elimination of many ACs strikes me as problematic. Will consumers be better served by a "Côtes de Bordeaux" designation than a "Côte de Castillon"? It may increase name recognition for the masses, but it also blurs real distinctions in terroir.
3. I love the name "vins de terroir" and the overhaul of the reviewing committees sounds promising to me, but I wonder if those same reforms might not lead to lessening the importance of terroir. Will those respected enologists et al prize "typicité" as much as the present committees do? Granted, that same notion leads to ludicrous decisions, such as rejecting wines made from lower yields in the Languedoc, but I fear that e.g. barrique-aged Muscadet might impress a committee of journalists and wine merchants more than it would local vignerons.

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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby wnissen » Thu Feb 21, 2008 4:19 pm

Mr York:

Wow, thanks for posting your translation. My guess is this will be a major force in the French wine industry for years to come. My guess (and a wild one at that) is that this will finally drain the wine lake. Perhaps I'm grossly overestimating the impact, but anything that would let the whole of France move to the Champagne model just might do it.

The essential problem with the appellation system is that it's useful only to a ferociously well-educated connoisseur. Even who read extensively have trouble recognizing appellations outside the big names. The other 98% (by volume) of the market has no hope of knowing that a Pauillac is a Bordeaux or a Morgon a Beaujolais. They're just going to head for the label with an animal on it. Period.

Look at the one region of France that has succeeded in making itself a real brand: Champagne. There's exactly one appellation, nearly universal high-quality, and what do you know, it sells for around US$30-40 a bottle. In the U.S., for all practical purposes, Champagne is Veuve Clicquot is the "yellow" label, and it sells like hotcakes.

Applying this to France as a whole, probably you would want to get rid of 90% of the appellations, and make them "subtitles" like Bordeaux is starting to do. Really, when you're talking about the spread-out fringes of a large region, like Bourgogne, Bordeaux, the Rhone, it's more about climate and grape varieties than terroir. Let them become regions rather than Balkanizing them into endless cotes and villages that lack distinctive terroir. Have I managed to offend everybody yet?

Face it, the future of French wine is individuation at the high end (the few percent of chateaux that have independent reputations will do better) and consolidation at the middle and lower tiers (think Gallo's Red Bicyclette!), with the artisans nibbling at the edges like they always have. Heck, the unconstraining of planting rights may give more of them a chance to start their own vineyards rather than waiting for the calcified local landowners and government. Am I being too optimistic here?

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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Bill Hooper » Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:33 am

Mark Lipton wrote:Fascinating, Tim. Thank you for posting this. What are your thoughts on the proposals? My own follow:

2. The replacement of VdP with "vins de Territoire" and the elimination of many ACs strikes me as problematic. Will consumers be better served by a "Côtes de Bordeaux" designation than a "Côte de Castillon"? It may increase name recognition for the masses, but it also blurs real distinctions in terroir.


Maybe it will be blurred a little. But, look at the power of Cotes du Rhone in the minds of wine drinkers. I am almost never in favor or 'dumbing down' wine to make it marketable. But many of the outlying regions in Bordeaux (much of the proposed 'Cotes') were historically planted to white grapes anyway. The demand for more red wine was the impetus for transforming these regions. So, history won't mind too much I think.

3. I love the name "vins de terroir" and the overhaul of the reviewing committees sounds promising to me, but I wonder if those same reforms might not lead to lessening the importance of terroir. Will those respected enologists et al prize "typicité" as much as the present committees do? Granted, that same notion leads to ludicrous decisions, such as rejecting wines made from lower yields in the Languedoc, but I fear that e.g. barrique-aged Muscadet might impress a committee of journalists and wine merchants more than it would local vignerons.


The German tasting panels responsible for the Amtliche Prüfung nummer face similar challenges. Barrique-aged Riesling never passes and is downgraded to Tafelwein.

I'm not so sure if having LVMH oversee the process doesn't present a conflict of interest though! How about if we let Ford set the standards of fuel-economy and safety regulations for automobiles in the US?
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby AlexR » Fri Feb 22, 2008 6:26 am

Hi Tim,

Thanks for your post.

I picked up on one reply:

>>>Consumers be better served by a "Côtes de Bordeaux" designation than a "Côte de Castillon"?

This is an interesting debate.
As you know, there is a movement afoot to introduce this new appellation in Bordeaux.
So far, all Côtes regions - except for the Côtes de Bourg - have agreed on principle to this.

I can see both sides of the issue, but lean toward favoring the new appellation because it simplifies things to consumers and
I believe it will ultimately increase sales.
However, it will blur things to clued-in consumers, I agree.

Will it "debase" or "dumb down" specific sub-appellations?
I don't think so, but I don't know for sure...

One last point: I think the Côtes appellation is not very prestigious in Bordeaux to begin with (I won't speak for other regions
and appellations such as Côte Rôtie).

I believe that Buzet gained much by dropping the name "Côtes" from their appellation.
Personally, I would warm up to "Castillon" much more than a "Côtes de Castillon".
This is implicitly acknowledged in the "Premières Côtes de Blaye" (even a more complicated name...) appellation whose best wines
are sold simply under the name of "Blaye".

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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Tim York » Fri Feb 22, 2008 7:17 am

Mark Lipton wrote:Fascinating, Tim. Thank you for posting this. What are your thoughts on the proposals? My own follow:

1. The addition of vintage to VdT is a no-brainer and long overdue
2. The replacement of VdP with "vins de Territoire" and the elimination of many ACs strikes me as problematic. Will consumers be better served by a "Côtes de Bordeaux" designation than a "Côte de Castillon"? It may increase name recognition for the masses, but it also blurs real distinctions in terroir.
3. I love the name "vins de terroir" and the overhaul of the reviewing committees sounds promising to me, but I wonder if those same reforms might not lead to lessening the importance of terroir. Will those respected enologists et al prize "typicité" as much as the present committees do? Granted, that same notion leads to ludicrous decisions, such as rejecting wines made from lower yields in the Languedoc, but I fear that e.g. barrique-aged Muscadet might impress a committee of journalists and wine merchants more than it would local vignerons.

Mark Lipton


Mark, the overall outline of the reform seems to me about as sensible as one could hope for. The devil will be in the detail. Let me take your points one by one.

1. I agree that this is a "no brainer". New style "vins de table" should open the way for the creation of competitive French commercial brands. Whether it actually works will depend on having the right business men to take up the challenge and on the co-operation of thousands of hitherto individualistic small producers used to living off subsidies.

2. I share your concern about the middle category, "vins de territoire". A lot will depend on how individual appellations and even estates position themselves. I have in mind here some of my favourite "value" appellations like Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Vacqueyras, CDRV Cairanne, etc. Will they aim for the "vins de terroir" tier or be content with the mediocrity of "vins de territoire"? On the proposed "Côtes de Bordeaux", this could act as a damper on the ambitions of several promising châteaux from, say, Côtes de Castillon who are showing signs of making a quality breakthrough? On the other hand, this tier should open the way for more reasonable quality Bordeaux generic brands.

3. I think that there could well be a dilution of typicity in the top tier and not just because of the composition of the tasting committees. The RVF article contains a paragraph, which I did not include in my summary, saying that the new system would be more favourable for producers like Thévenet, Dagueneau, etc. whose wines have sometimes been refused AOC status in the past; not only tasting will be taken into account but also good stewardship of the vines and cellars and the quality of the terroir. Additinally "those appellations who so desire it may render optional tastings for the wines of producers whose talent is generally recognized." I feel rather ambivalent about this.

wnissen wrote:Look at the one region of France that has succeeded in making itself a real brand: Champagne. There's exactly one appellation, nearly universal high-quality, and what do you know, it sells for around US$30-40 a bottle. In the U.S., for all practical purposes, Champagne is Veuve Clicquot is the "yellow" label, and it sells like hotcakes.

Applying this to France as a whole, probably you would want to get rid of 90% of the appellations, and make them "subtitles" like Bordeaux is starting to do.



I don't think that there will be a generalization of the Champagne model as a result of these reforms. The intention is certainly to preserve and strengthen terroir based wines and their AOCs in the top tier. There could, however, be a spread of decent quality generic regional brands in the second "territoire" tier and, of course, national brands of commercial quality in the bottom "table" tier.

Bill Hooper wrote:I'm not so sure if having LVMH oversee the process doesn't present a conflict of interest though! How about if we let Ford set the standards of fuel-economy and safety regulations for automobiles in the US?


On balance, I think that Bénard's business experience will be beneficial in piloting this reform. French media seem to be becoming much more vigilant in monitoring potential conflicts of interest.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby AlexR » Fri Feb 22, 2008 7:27 am

Tim,

On balance, I think that Bénard's business experience will be beneficial in piloting this reform. French media seem to be becoming much more vigilant in monitoring potential conflicts of interest.


Yes, indeed.
Once must never underestimate French resistance to change, particularly when it comes to agriculture and food.

Best regards,
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l

Postby AlexR » Fri Feb 22, 2008 7:28 am

No matter what I do:

- bold
- underline
- quote

it NEVER comes out right on this forum

<sigh>
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Steve Slatcher » Fri Feb 22, 2008 7:48 am

Unbelievable! The French are planning to have three categories, the initials of all three are VdT, and two of them differ by only one syllable (just the middle "t" in rapid English speech, and possibly in French too).
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Tim York » Fri Feb 22, 2008 8:01 am

Steve Slatcher wrote:Unbelievable! The French are planning to have three categories, the initials of all three are VdT, and two of them differ by only one syllable (just the middle "t" in rapid English speech, and possibly in French too).


Steve, the same thought did occur to me. I'm not sure whether this vocabulary is official or just that of the journalist.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby AlexR » Fri Feb 22, 2008 8:08 am

From a French language standpoint, the 3 names sound very different.
However, I agree that if there is confusion on export markets this may not be a smart move...

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Re: l

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Feb 22, 2008 9:01 am

AlexR wrote:No matter what I do:

- bold
- underline
- quote

it NEVER comes out right on this forum

<sigh>


What seems to be the problem, Alex? It is a trivial matter to invoke bold and underline.

Using "quote" seems to puzzle some folks, but it's really a matter of paying attention and making sure that you take care to start and end the quoted section with the proper tags. You have done it correctly this time. Shall we blame the software next time?
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Feb 22, 2008 9:02 am

Tim York wrote:The March number of la Revue du Vin de France (“RVF”) contains a rather turgid article on the reform of French wine rules in the context of new European regulations. I extract below the main points.

A three tier system of appellations will be put in place. ...

Excellent report, Tim ... thanks for the report and the translation. Assuming you don't object, I might summarize it yet further in today's Wine Advisor, linking to this thread.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Tim York » Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:09 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Tim York wrote:The March number of la Revue du Vin de France (“RVF”) contains a rather turgid article on the reform of French wine rules in the context of new European regulations. I extract below the main points.

A three tier system of appellations will be put in place. ...

Excellent report, Tim ... thanks for the report and the translation. Assuming you don't object, I might summarize it yet further in today's Wine Advisor, linking to this thread.


Please go ahead, Robin. For the record, this is not a translation of the article which was chatty, discursive and much longer. It is a précis of its main points in my own words.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:12 am

Tim York wrote:It is a précis of its main points in my own words.

Thanks for the clarification, Tim! I'll give you full credit. :)
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Tim York » Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:32 pm

This quote from Robin in his recently posted Wine Advisor puts a finger right on the issue that will be of greatest concern to less than wealthy wine-lovers in the context of the appellation reform.



"Now, let's have a short-form look at that obscure French village. While I don't know of specific plans for Macon La Roche Vineuse, it's the type of tiny, obscure appellation that seems likely to disappear under the new regulatory system."

"If La Roche Vineuse were to disappear into a broad "Macon" or even broader "Bourgogne" appellation, would producer Alain Normand continue to hand-craft this crisp, defined and minerally Chardonnay that surely speaks with an accent unique to "the vinous rock"? Or would the necessities of the marketplace ensure that this fine wine eventually ends up as part of an anonymous blend?"

"I'd like to believe that passionate artisans like Normand would stay the course, counting on his name and reputation to sell the wine to a small but devoted audience. But who knows? While the big French producers are likely secure in their reputations even through a storm of change, you have to wonder how the small, less-known properties will fare."



This is precisely where the devil will be in the detail. Will it still be possible in the context of the second tier "vins de territoire" to tack on a village name to the appellation or, at least, mention it and, where relevant, a "lieu-dit" on the label? This would seem to me to be the minimum requirement for artisans like Alain Normand to continue producing and marketing wines like the one Robin reviews. We will have to wait and see.

The other alternative would be for ambitious appellations to try to get into the top "vins de terroir" category. In the Mâconnais, I can only see Pouilly-Fuissé and, perhaps, Saint-Véran doing that.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Dale Williams » Fri Feb 22, 2008 4:11 pm

I applaud the general idea, yet worry about the specifics. In the example they give, I tend to like Cd Castillon more than Blaye or Francs (the only Cadillacs I have were so-so stickies, do they make reds? If not weird adding them to appellation). I prefer more precise, but realize that I am a geek and not target audience.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby AlexR » Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:12 pm

Côtes de Bordeaux...

I think that it is out of the question for the names of Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac and Francs to disappear.

I have in front of me a bottle that says "Bourgogne" and underneath "Côtes d'Auxerre" in much smaller letters.
I'm pretty sure that this principle would be retained i.e. an "umbrella appellation" (in larger letters) followed by a "sub-appellation".
This makes a lot of sense!

However, there is no way that a new appellation (or "son-of-appellation") would ever wipe out the geographic indication of origin of Côtes de Blaye, for instance.
There would be blood running in the streets if anyone ever tried to impose this.
Hey, this is France...

Dale, Cadillac exists only in sem-sweet white ("moelleux").
Some Cadillac can be very good. It's so inexpensive that when you come across a good one, it can be a fantastic deal.

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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:33 pm

AlexR wrote:However, there is no way that a new appellation (or "son-of-appellation") would ever wipe out the geographic indication of origin of Côtes de Blaye, for instance.
There would be blood running in the streets if anyone ever tried to impose this.
Hey, this is France...


Nah...just a transit strike.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby William K » Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:35 pm

wnissen wrote:Look at the one region of France that has succeeded in making itself a real brand: Champagne. There's exactly one appellation, nearly universal high-quality, and what do you know, it sells for around US$30-40 a bottle. In the U.S., for all practical purposes, Champagne is Veuve Clicquot is the "yellow" label, and it sells like hotcakes.


But what if the net result in other regions is something less than "nearly universal high quality?" Take Robin's example of white Burgundy, for instance. I assume quite a bit of difference between AOC's Borgogne, St. Aubain, and Macon-Village, and am much more willing to take a chance on a $20 AOC Borgogne than a $20 Macon-Village. If all of this gets lumped into one new Territoire AOC Borgogne, the net effect is that I am not going to be taking nearly as many filers on $20 bottles of that.

This isn't the end of the world, of course. Wine lovers will just manage it the same way we do with U.S. wines, where the AVA system is so broad and politicized as to be nearly useless: we'll come to rely on specific producers much more so than general regions. I think it's very rare that any of us even look at the AVA when selecting U.S. wines; a wine isn't a "Mendocino" or a "Dry Creek," it's a "Ridge" or a "Nalle."

Ultimately, this puts the pressure on the individual producer to market themselves much more than in the past...which is fine with me but seems a bit counter to the intent of the changes.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Jon Peterson » Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:56 pm

Next they need to tackle Burgundy and German wines - that's where I get lost.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Keith M » Fri Feb 22, 2008 9:08 pm

Robin Garr wrote:"Now, let's have a short-form look at that obscure French village. While I don't know of specific plans for Macon La Roche Vineuse, it's the type of tiny, obscure appellation that seems likely to disappear under the new regulatory system."

"If La Roche Vineuse were to disappear into a broad "Macon" or even broader "Bourgogne" appellation, would producer Alain Normand continue to hand-craft this crisp, defined and minerally Chardonnay that surely speaks with an accent unique to "the vinous rock"? Or would the necessities of the marketplace ensure that this fine wine eventually ends up as part of an anonymous blend?"

"I'd like to believe that passionate artisans like Normand would stay the course, counting on his name and reputation to sell the wine to a small but devoted audience. But who knows? While the big French producers are likely secure in their reputations even through a storm of change, you have to wonder how the small, less-known properties will fare."

So "small, less-known properties" depend on a "tiny, obscure appellation" to sell their wines? Could anyone explain to me why this would be so? It seems like a curious argument . . .
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:16 pm

Keith M wrote:So "small, less-known properties" depend on a "tiny, obscure appellation" to sell their wines? Could anyone explain to me why this would be so? It seems like a curious argument . . .

In my opinion, it's because a niche market exists for small-production, artisanal producers. Importers like Dressner and Solomon feed retailers like Chambers Street who serve a relatively small audience of wine geeks like us. It's not a very big sector of the overall wine market - there are an awful lot of Kendall-Jackson, Rosemount and Duboeuf drinkers out there - but the producers don't make that much wine, so they've found their level.

I'm speculating - and only speculating - that the loss of a distinguishing label would weaken this niche over time, just as the world domination of Starbucks eventually starts hurting the business of local artisan coffee roasters.
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Re: NEWS: Reform of the French appellation system.

Postby Bill Hooper » Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:43 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Keith M wrote:So "small, less-known properties" depend on a "tiny, obscure appellation" to sell their wines? Could anyone explain to me why this would be so? It seems like a curious argument . . .

In my opinion, it's because a niche market exists for small-production, artisanal producers. Importers like Dressner and Solomon feed retailers like Chambers Street who serve a relatively small audience of wine geeks like us. It's not a very big sector of the overall wine market - there are an awful lot of Kendall-Jackson, Rosemount and Duboeuf drinkers out there - but the producers don't make that much wine, so they've found their level.

I'm speculating - and only speculating - that the loss of a distinguishing label would weaken this niche over time, just as the world domination of Starbucks eventually starts hurting the business of local artisan coffee roasters.


I doubt that it will come to that. There are already different cuvee and lieu-dit names on wine labels of the lowliest ACs. Look at the Languedoc for proof -A great example is L'Aigueliere and their many cuvees. Verget in the Maconnais is also famous for his ridiculous range of wines -all with different labels like 'Lieu (inter)dit' and 'Grand Elevage'.

On a related note, I just really hope that they knock down the number of Alsace GC's. I've said it before, but 51 is too many and makes a mockery of the Grand Cru system. 622 '1er Cru' vineyards might be too many for Burgundy as well. Some just aren't pulling their weight anymore.
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