Vin de Pays (VDP), the French national equivalent of the Europe-wide IGP (Indication Geographique Protegee), is a quality category of French wine, positioned between Vin de Table (VDT) and Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC). This layer of the French appellation system was initially introduced in September 1968 by the INAO, the official appellation authority. It underwent several early revisions in the 1970s, followed by substantial changes in September 2000 and again in 2009, when all existing VDP titles were automatically registered with the European Union as IGPs. Producers retain the choice of whether to use the VDP or IGP titles on their labels, or both – in the form 'IGP-Vin de Pays'. There are now more than 150 VDP/IGP titles, covering locations mostly in the southern third of France.
The Vin de Pays tier is intended to benefit both consumers and wine producers. It provides consumers with clarity about a wine's provenance, while producers are empowered to make wine outside the constraints of traditional AOC laws. The most obvious freedoms are the higher permitted yields and a more comprehensive list of approved grape varieties. Most significant in commercial terms is the fact that the wines may be varietals and labeled as such. This has proved beneficial – particularly in New World markets, which are much more focused on varietals than those of Europe.
While the VDP category sharpens the focus on grape varieties, it identifies vineyard locations much more loosely. AOC boundaries are drawn out meter by meter according to the terroir (particularly in the case of Grand Crus), but VDP boundaries correspond to those of much larger areas.
The Vin de Pays category is further sub-divided into three levels of geographical specificity. The top regional level has six divisions, corresponding roughly to existing wine regions. These are: VDP du Jardin de la France (Loire); VDP de L'Atlantique (Bordeaux, Dordogne, Charentais); VDP du Comte Tolosan (South-West); VDP d'Oc (Languedoc-Roussillon); VDP Portes de Mediterranee (Provence and Corsica); and VDP des Comtes Rhodaniens (Rhone Valley, Beaujolais and Savoie). The center of the Rhone Valley is covered by both the Comtes Rhodaniens and Portes de Mediterranee titles.
The next layer is departmental, reflecting France's wider administrative structure. Of France's 100-odd departements, 52 have their own VDP titles, with VDP de L'Herault being a commonly cited example. The remainder either produce insufficient quantities of wine to warrant a title or are adequately covered by AOC appellations – as is the case with Cote d'Or (Burgundy).
The most finely tuned level consists of the 93 Vins de Pays de Zone, the most location-specific titles. These have tighter production regulations, sometimes approaching the strictness of AOC laws. Their evocative, sometimes lengthy, names are intentionally designed to avoid confusion with nearby AOC titles. Vin de Pays des Alpilles, for example, is named after the Alpilles hills in northern Provence and could never be confused with the exclusive Les Baux de Provence AOC which shares its territory.
The VDP heartland is unquestionably Languedoc-Roussillon, which is home to over half of the Vins de Pays de Zone and produces more than three-quarters of all VDP wine. In 2006, it made five times more Vin de Pays than AOC wine – a figure made more significant by the fact that its AOC production matched the entire output of Alsace for that vintage.
About 80% of VDP wines are red, supplemented by white and rose. They are produced from a list of 300 approved varieties, with an increasing focus on varietals made from 'international' varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay and even Pinot Noir. Under the 2009 changes, a VDP varietal must comprise at least 85% of the stated variety; where two varieties are stated on the label, they must constitute the full 100% of the blend.