Beaujolais Nouveau winemakers are determined to party, despite a 'once-in-a-generation' small harvest threatening to leave some reliant on bank loans.
This year’s Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations come amid talk of cash flow problems for winemakers following an expected 45% drop in the size of the 2012 Beaujolais harvest.
Record low grape hauls are being reported in many European wine regions, with Champagne 40% down.
Yet, the mood is defiant at the five-day, flagship Nouveau party in Beaujeu, the historic capital of Beaujolais.
‘It’s been a historically weak harvest, hit by many factors like frost, hail and diseases,’ said Daniel Bulliat, winemaker and head organiser of Beaujeu festivities. ‘But, we must continue. We want to protect the convivial image of Beaujolais,’ he told Decanter.com.
Around 20,000 people turned out to see a giant bottle of Beaujolais uncorked over a giant globe in Beaujeu on Wednesday night, a tradition to mark the release of the new vintage.
‘When times are hard, people see an opportunity to party and forget about their difficulties,’ said Jean Bourjade, MD of trade body Inter-Beaujolais.
Still, a harvest that many older winemakers describe as the smallest in living memory is likely to put some wineries under financial strain, particularly for those who are low on reserve stocks from past vintages.
‘There have been a lot of numbers flying around, from 50 to 500 wineries [in trouble],’ Bourjade told Decanter.com. ‘In reality, I think it’s more likely to be 100 or 150 – out of 3,000 Beaujolais winemakers – but that’s just a guess for now.’
Anticipating problems back in July, Inter-Beaujolais struck a deal with major banks to extend short-term loans to wine businesses in the event of trouble. ‘In principle the banks agreed,’ said Bourjade, ‘but it will be done on a case-by-case basis’.
He estimates that the majority of wineries will get by. ‘We have just about one year of sales in stocks in Beaujolais, that’s why I’m pretty confident.’
A bigger harvest in 2013 is essential. ‘Statistically, I’ve been told that the risk of having two consecutive harvests like this will be equivalent to someone winning the lottery two consecutive times,’ he said.
Inter-Beaujolais is upbeat on quality for 2012, with smaller berries and lower yields, plus good weather in September, expected to produce concentrated fruit and more complexity.
Globally, Beaujolais Nouveau is moving east. Inter-Beaujolais hasn’t marketed the festival in the UK for several years, instead focusing on the quality of Beaujolais-Villages and the ten ‘crus’, but Eastern Europe’s interest in Beaujolais Nouveau is rising strongly, according to Bourjade.
In Asia, Japan continues to set the pace, but China has promise. ‘It will become very large in China,’ Bourjade said.
Written by Chris Mercer