Sales of woodchips to winemakers in Bordeaux have increased by as much as 200%.
The main driver for this increase is a legal vacuum. A text banning the use of woodchips in AOC winemaking was prepared last November (2006) by INAO, the French regulatory body for AOC wines, but it has not yet been signed into law.
As a result many winemakers refer to the EU regulation authorising the use of woodchips post fermentation, passed in December 2005.
‘I have seen a 200% increase in sales in the Bordeaux area between the 2005 and 2006 vintages,’ said Arthur Mauriac of Tonnellerie Vernou, an international supplier of so called ‘alternative products’ which include oak sticks, staves, wood powder and chips. ‘And within that 200% there are AOC producers of medium to low quality wine,’ he said.
‘The ban is not yet signed and the situation is ambiguous. This makes things difficult for us as it limits sales, which could be up to five times more,’ Mauriac added.
For the moment only chips and sticks are in demand in Bordeaux, as wood powders are not authorised by the EU, and the use of staves is complicated, suppliers say.
However, despite the increase in sales, most winemakers prefer to be discreet, asking, for example, for their invoice not to reflect the purchase of woodchips. ‘Clients ask me to put down barrel cleaning for example,’ said one supplier who did not wish to be named.
‘Most don’t want to admit they use wood chips,’ agreed Mauriac.
Another supplier who did not wish to be named said there had been a rise in demand, but added that given the current situation where chips can only legally be used post fermentation, to round out a wine, orders are not huge.
The same supplier predicted that the current situation would continue for this year given that French government elections start this April – and that the main event of 2007 would be the EU legalisation of chip use during fermentation.
Those who are against the authorised use of wood chips are said to fall into two camps, those who are already using, but don’t want their neighbours to get started, and others who fear that legalising wood chips will open the flood gates to what they dub ‘new world winemaking practices’ such as adding water, or using wood powders.
Written by Sophie Kevany