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For an AOC to be promoted to the premier AOCE, at least 75% of its producers would have to subscribe to the new hi-tech rules and tougher quality controls.The proposed changes to France's venerable, complex and hitherto sacrosanct AOC system, which was devised back in 1935, have already drawn fire from some more conservative producers.The heat is affecting the way grapes are grown and harvested in ways not seen at any other time in the last 400 years, according to new research.

"We have heard this before in situations where they are selling sugar at this time of year," an agent from the DGCCRF wine brigade told AFP.

"But given the amount of sugar, it could only be sales to professionals, and in this case, winegrowers." The year 2007 is remembered for its dismal weather, one of the factors which can prompt winegrowers to add sugar to their harvest.

But if the air around the vineyards continues to heat up, it could pose some significant challenges for regions that have been growing grapes for centuries.

France's wine regions are relatively cool, compared with those found in places such as California and Australia, and there is a particular seasonal pattern that seems to produce the ideal grape.

The drought has historically been crucial to achieving the temperatures necessary for the best grapes.

Indeed, there is a solid correlation between early harvests and high-quality wines, with the best wines often being those from when the temperatures are so high the grapes are harvested early.

The DGCCRF wine brigade told AFP it suspects the store was helping local winegrowers sweeten their crop beyond the authorised limit -- rather than dodge taxes.

"In 2007 alone, what was sold over three months corresponds to the annual consumption of a city of 10,000 inhabitants," said a DGCCRF agent, quoted in the Sud Ouest newspaper earlier this month.

France's winemakers are planning to create a premier league of wines as part of revolutionary changes that are designed to haul the country's most emblematic industry out of its deepest crisis in nearly 150 years.

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