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‘Cluster effect’ crucial to a wine region’s success, say researchers

Winemakers in lesser known regions need more than good terroir and money to emulate famous names like Bordeaux, Champagne and Rioja, argue researchers in a new book on the 'wine cluster effect'.

Even with the best terroir in the world, a winemaker’s chances of success will be hamstrung without a hard core of nearby, like-minded producers who are able to combine building their own wine empires with a collective strategy for critical acclaim.

‘It’s the wine cluster effect,’ said Valery Michaux, head of research at Neoma Business School in Reims, who has co-edited a book on the issue.

In the book, named ‘strategies of wine producing territories, clusters, governance and territorial brands’, Michaux and fellow researchers examine the rise and fall of specific wine regions.

As a business term, the ‘cluster effect’ has been used to explain the success of start-ups from Silicon Valley. But, Michaux said it has rarely been applied to wine.

‘When you have a strong commitment between people, you have a very strong balance that helps to maintain and improve the quality of the wine,’ Michaux told Decanter.com.

France’s Cahors region is a good example of what can happen when a cluster is missing, she said.

‘It has a very strong brand name, but it has been weakened by the evolution of consumer tastes,’ she said.

Producers could not pull themselves out of the hole, because they ‘could not reach a strategic consensus’, Michaux argued. ‘In Cahors, there was weak governance. And you can’t do anything without strong governance.’

There are signs that Cahors, the spiritual home of Malbec, has recently started to turn its reputation around; an issue the October issue of Decanter magazine will explore.

From her base in Reims, Michaux highlighted Champagne as a region that has benefited strongly from the cluster effect.

‘Champagne is really well balanced. There’s a paradox; each producer has their own strategy, but there’s also a collective strategy.’

She said emerging wine regions do not always need wealthy backers.

‘It’s not about being rich. Sancerre is an example of an entreprenurial culture, with around 350 winemakers, where they deal with evolution together. It was a very poor region at the beginning.’

Written by Chris Mercer

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