Olivier Cousin.

© Courtesy of Jenny & François Selections.
Olivier Cousin.Popular Loire Valley winemaker Olivier Cousin faces prison time after boxes of his wines turned up labeled with the initials AOC, which happens to be the acronym for France's superstrict wine classification system Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Cousin opted out of AOC Anjou status several years ago, giving him the freedom to make wine however he wants, but under the less prestigious vin de table designation. For years, one of Cousin's labels has included the name of the region Anjou, the use of which is also restricted, but authorities seem to have turned a blind eye to the infraction until this more flagrant offense.

Cousin's American importer, Jenny & François Selections, says that a European distributor is to blame for taking a jab at France's governing wine authorities by labeling boxes with initials that stand for Appellation Olivier Cousin. The official AOC was not amused. Cousin's charges could result in a fine of more than $50,000 and a two-year imprisonment.

The AOC system is, to say the least, controversial. (When we interviewed writer Alice Feiring last week she told us it should be abolished.) Cousin, who works his vineyards with horses, is part of the natural winemaking coterie that has a history of run-ins with the organization. For example, the Beaujolais producer Jean-Paul Brun failed an AOC tasting panel in 2008 after being told his wine wasn't representative of the region. The wine is critically acclaimed, something that is not characteristic of Beaujolais.

Jenny & Francois is circulating an online petition in support of Olivier Cousin here.