Crisis-hit French winegrowers re-label bottles

22nd July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 22 (AFP) - France is to change centuries of tradition by labelling bottles of its Bordeaux and Burgundy wines according to grape variety as part of an urgent effort to claw back declining world market share from upstart vineyards in the United States, Australia and South Africa, officials said.

PARIS, July 22 (AFP) - France is to change centuries of tradition by labelling bottles of its Bordeaux and Burgundy wines according to grape variety as part of an urgent effort to claw back declining world market share from upstart vineyards in the United States, Australia and South Africa, officials said.

The decision, agreed in an emergency Paris meeting late Wednesday of wine-growers and Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard, is seen as radical in a country where up to now wine has been sold purely according to region, and is often labelled as coming from a particular village or chateau.

But it is also seen as necessary because consumers abroad are increasingly turning to so-called "New World" wines whose quality has been on the rise - and whose selection is made much simpler by labels categorising the sort of grapes they come from: for instance "Cabernet" or "Merlot" (the types typically grown in Bordeaux), or "Pinot Noir" (the sort found in Burgundy).

The label reform "will help clarify and simplify the presentation of the French offer on international markets," Gaymard said.

Overproduction and lower domestic wine consumption in France, along with ever-tougher competition from Australian, Argentinean, Chilean, South African and US wines and the surging euro have pushed many French wine-growing regions into crisis.

Overall wine exports, not including Champagne, are down nine percent so far this year, according to the French financial daily La Tribune, which added that overseas sales had already dropped eight percent last year.

Non-prestige Bordeaux wines haves been particularly hard-hit, with exports dropping nearly 12 percent so far this year. Growers have held several street demonstrations to decry what they say is the worst moment in their industry since the 1970s.

Sales of "New World" wines, in contrast, have been barrelling along.

Last year, for the first time, their sales outstripped those of French wines and they are continuing to win over palates and grab bigger slices of markets in Britain, Canada and Germany that used to be dominated by French bottles.

According to a recent survey by A C Nielsen, Australian wines now claim six of the top 10 places in the British market, and the French wines do not figure at all.

There, Australian bottles now take up 24 percent of the market, with French wines trailing on 19 percent, followed by the United States (14 percent), South Africa and Italy (10 percent each).

At a June wine trade fair in Chicago, Vinexpo Americas 2004, experts urged France to re-think its packaging of wine bottles if it wanted to retain its share of the multi-billion dollar US market, which now takes in more Italian and Australian wines than the French stuff.

Changing French labels to reflect the grape variety "is very good and is a move in the right direction," the head of the Bordeaux wine industry association, Christian Delpeuch, said after Wednesday's meeting in Paris.

But he said he was "very disappointed" by the other secondary measures the agriculture ministry planned to adopt, among which was a promise to boost public funding for the marketing and promotion of French wines by 50 percent.

"I don't see what they will change. Everything depends on the financial means they'll bring to the table," he said.

Other measures, including lifting a French ban on wood chips to artificially enhance flavour as is done in other countries, is being studied but would have to be authorised at an EU level.

France is also considering categorising its wines as a "cultural product" in a move that would allow it to receive more state aid and possibly benefit from exceptions in international trade negotiations.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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