Figaro publishes 20 ideas to save French wine

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  • Wednesday 17 November 2004

French newspaper Le Figaro has published a 20-step guide to getting France out of its current wine crisis.

As part of a 5-page section, the 20 suggestions bring together ideas and projects from a broad cross section of the wine trade in France.

With such suggestions as adding wood chips to generic wines, ‘uprooting vines’ and ‘reinforced appellation controls’, the list includes many controversial ideas. Some, such as the creation of an AOC (Appellation d’Origin Controllée) d’Excellence and alteration of the AOC assessment, are already being discussed by the INAO, the central appellation control body.

Other suggestions include fast-track development of tourism (‘each time a tourist tastes a wine in situ, he becomes an new ambassador’), simplifying the AOC, making labels easier to understand, introducing a ‘Wine Week’ to educate people in wine tasting, introducing new and different packaging, and creating a ‘higher authority’ to unite government, public health representatives and wine professionals.

Allowing wood chippings in the winemaking process is point 8. Although it is only to be allowed in Vin de Pays and Vin de Table wines, ‘it would still be a revolution’, says Le Figaro.

Winemakers, influential journalists such as Robert Parker and other key figures are quoted. Olivier Decelle, owner of Mas-Amiel in Roussillon and of a Médoc cru bourgeois, thinks alternative packaging is the way forward. He wants to put his cru bourgeois wine in a bag-in-the-box.

Wine guru Robert Parker’s ‘audacious’ suggestion is to allow Bordeaux producers to blend in outside grape varieties – an idea that has already been mooted by CIVB president Christian Delpeuch.

‘It would be interesting to allow Bordeaux winemakers to mix their grape varieties with others that are currently banned such as Syrah or Grenache,’ Parker says.

Bordeaux ‘garagiste’ Jean-Luc Thunevin of Château Valandraud has a similar proposal. He suggests the creation of a ‘Vin de Pays d’Atlantique’, allowing St-Emilion to be mixed with Cahors. Thunevin also espouses the selling of the best crus in supermarkets and hypermarkets.

‘There is no dishonour in selling in hypermarkets because nowadays everyone does their shopping there,’ he says.

Other proposals are more business-oriented. Multimillionaire Bernard Magrez, head of the William Pitters group and owner of five grand cru Bordeaux châteaux, says individual châteaux should group together in order to finance overseas sales representatives in order to increase export sales.

The owner of French supermarket chain Leclerc, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, says wines should be rearranged on the shelves. Rather than bottles being grouped by region, he proposes layouts to be done by type or theme such as ‘tannic wines’ or ‘sweet wines’.

Women are another untapped Gallic resource, according to Lavinia wines boss Thierry Servant. Research conducted by Onivins-Inra indicates that women buy 75% of supermarket wine despite consuming only 25% of wine in general.

‘We absolutely must adapt our marketing to conquer the female market,’ he says.

As Le Figaro says, ideas are not lacking even if some proposals, such as encouraging a more homogenous style of wine and preserving French typicity, are contradictory.

'France is a giant with feet of clay. The world of [French] wine is ready for a historic rethink,’ says Le Figaro, ‘as long as it knows how to adapt itself and how to revise the rules and habits that are over a hundred years old.’

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