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Top French players turn to South Africa

As the French export market falls, producers are finding the dynamic South Africa more and more attractive as a production base.

France’s wine exports fell from a 1998 peak of 16.7m hectolitres to about 14.2m in 2004. South Africa – ranked 8th largest wine exporter in the world – picked up some of the slack.

In the first six months of 2005 it exported 2.04m hl, outpacing exports for the whole of 2001.

And high-end French producers are not letting the grass grow under their feet. the Rollands, Hubert de Bouard of Angelus, May de Lencquesaing of Chateau Pichon Longueville and others are investing enthusiastically in South Africa.

Dany Rolland, along with husband Michel, the Bordeaux enologist, is contracted to make wine with Murray Boustred, owner of the 30ha Remhoogte estate in Stellenbosch. They make Bonne Nouvelle and the lower-range Remhoogte Estate Blend.

Rolland told decanter.com she found no Bordeaux on wine lists during a recent trip to California, and that ‘South African and Argentine wines, for example, have more cachet for the US market.’

‘I would like to believe that it is just political problems between France and the US or the weak dollar, but I also think we do not know how to sell our wines as well as other countries,’ she said.

Hubert de Bouard of Chateau Angelus in Saint Emilion said, ‘The market has become very competitive, even for high-end Bordeaux.’

He and Bruno Prats – formerly of Chateau Cos d’Estournel – bought a 50% stake in the 42ha South African winery Anwilka in February this year. Their first vintage is expected in 2006, a red blend likely to retail for about €25.

‘One of the effects of globalization in the wine trade is that wine lovers want to have in their cellars a wider variety of high end wines, not just French wines,’ Prats said in an interview.

French winemakers also stress South Africa’s convenience and winemaking freedom: ‘There is little time change and harvests happen at different times in the year, so it is easy to be in both vineyards for the harvest,’ said May de Lencquesaing of Chateau Pichon Longueville, who acquired a 124-hectare estate in the Stellenbosch region in 2004.

‘Bordeaux has many rules, but I can experiment more in South Africa,’ said Alain Moueix, who purchased a 40-hectare property known as Ingwe in 1997. He also noted ‘major improvements’ in current wine exports compared to when he started.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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