JP Chenet says yes to cross-regional wines
Tuesday 6 October
If you’re not already sick to the back teeth of me harping on about the EU wine reform, here I am again with more updates.
Les Grand Chais de France group claims to be the largest exporter of wines from France, representing one in every five bottles of French wine sold abroad.
I’ve just spoken to Tim North, UK director of Les Grand Chais as part of my research for an article in Meiningers. Following the EU wine reform and the creation of vin de France, the white wines of France’s biggest brand JP Chenet, will be voluntarily downgraded from vin de pays to vin de France so it can blend across regions this year. North said, “At JP Chenet we think that there are big quality advantages of being able to blend from different regions especially for whites. For example Sauvignon Blanc is not aromatic in the Languedoc Roussillon; it is in the Loire but it can be a bit thin in cool years and we can also take some fruit from Gascony. We think that we can offer a great price to quality ratio by cross regional blending.”
While smaller producers oppose this sort of cross-regional blending, as it goes against all notions of terroir (or sense of place), this will enable the brand to compete with the New World’s big boys without previous restrictions.
“We were able to do this with vin de pays du vignobles de France previously but it was so complicated. We had to go through a bureaucratic process in each region before blending. We did this with our Kiwi Sauvignon in 2008 for the first time. We went through the whole rigmarole but we no longer have to get the ‘agrément’, we can please ourselves.”
“It’s what the Aussies had been doing for ages and we can do it now.”
The producer’s reds look likely to remain unchanged at least for this vintage, claiming there is little benefit in sourcing wines from outside the Languedoc with so many grape varieties and growers to choose from.
France should leave ‘industrial’ wines to the New World - Mas
Tuesday 29 September
Making big volume wines and trying to compete with the New World at low prices is not the way forward for France.
Speaking to the ever-passionate Jean-Claude Mas today, it was clear that despite the creation of the new vin de France which allows inter-regional blending, wines aimed at the mass market are not what France needs.
He said, “You have to be realistic. For example, if you want to make cheap leather goods you make them in Korea or China. If you want to make industrial-scale wines you make them in Chile, Argentina or South Africa where the costs are much lower. This is not suitable for the Languedoc. We are unable to make good quality wines at high yields. It would only reinvent the bad days of 30 years ago.”
While we don’t want to go back to the past of insipid reds and an overflowing wine lake, many would disagree with this, saying France should compete and the rise of inter-regional blending could create much more powerful brands, which win back some of France’s dwindling market share.
Mas doesn’t see this as a winning strategy for France or the Languedoc. If it wants to be viewed as the best wine producer in the world, it should let the New World do what it excels at while France should aim at the £5.99 and above market and, concentrate on quality.
This is probably unrealistic. France can make good value wines at entry level and it should be allowed to do it. If people are introduced to decent French quaffers at the start of their wine drinking life, it is likely they would be happy to work their way up the price ladder within the French category. At the moment a £5 French wine usually disappoints. Hopefully the creation of vin de France might see them competing with the likes of Gallo?
As an aside Gina Gallo has finally married Jean-Claude Boisset. I’m looking forward to a white Zin/Pinot blend in tetra pak sometime soon.
Zin the next big thing in the Languedoc?
Thursday 13 August
Forget the traditional Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blends in the Languedoc: the next big thing could be Zinfandel.
Following the EU wine reform, Zinfandel can be planted in the region and one producer has some 17 year-old vines ready to make some burly wines.
Louis Marie Teisserenc of Domaine de L’Arjolle in the Côtes de Thongue area is leading the Zinfandel revolution. He first planted Zin vines in 1992 on an experimental basis after a reconnaissance mission to California. Impressed by its acid retention in Napa’s warm climes, he was sure it could adapt to the Languedoc.
“Our Mediterranean climate is similar to the Californian coast and Napa. Now we are allowed to plant Zinfandel under the vin de France designation, we will plant more.”
There’s plenty of interest in Teisserenc’s Zin planting including Pierre Colbert at Château des Flaugergues so watch this space. Let’s hope they don’t start making White Zin out of it.
The new brand: France
Tuesday 11 August
Vin de Pays will no longer exist as I explained in my last blog, and nor will Vin de Table.
The classification will be no sad loss. Its wines have been poo-poohed by producers and consumers in the past. They have an image of low quality, mass-produced wine (although some fabulous VdT wines from Les Caves de Pyrene prove it ain’t necessarily so).
Vin de Table will now become Vin de France (or equivalent depending on where you make your wine) and for the first time ever the label will be able to state the vintage and grape variety on the label.
This move is a massive boost for major volume producers in the Languedoc and the rest of Europe. Big companies will now be able to make their wines relatively free of constraints and produce commercial wines under a new classification that is simple to understand for the international market. With grape varieties almost becoming brands in their own right, the ability to write Merlot or Chardonnay will also help Europe compete with the New World on foreign markets.
While this is opportunity that will benefit the big operations – think Les Grands Chais de France, Gerard Bertrand etc – smaller producers are also eyeing up the prospect of declassifying from their current Vin de Pays status to Vin de France. Why? Well, what’s the point in becoming an IGP, and having to jump through bureaucratic hoops if you can now put the grape variety and vintage on the label?
Marc Parce, winemaker at La Rectorie, a relatively small producer in Banyuls is attracted by the prospect of Vin de France: “Why would we mess around with the rules under IGP when you can make wines with the grape variety on with Vin de France? I won’t be able to resist using it,” he said.
However fellow member of Terroiristes du Midi group, Pierre Colbert of Chateau Flaugergues doesn’t share Parce’s view. “If you are a small producer you are not going to use this wide-ranging Vin de France classification. I think people think that this change is a good thing for the big negociants for them to do their blends. Smaller producers will use a more specific, smaller designation.”
Will consumers respect the Vin de France designation? They probably don’t care. Let’s face it the AOC system is no guarantee of quality.
A new reality for the Languedoc
Saturday 8 August
I’m in the Languedoc trying to understand what the European Union’s wine reform means for producers here. And I’ve opened a can of worms.
It is incredibly complex – even the producers are confused - many are burying their heads in the sand. I am meeting up with various members of Les Terroiristes du Midi who are pretty savvy but there’s still conflicting messages.
The main issue is that Vin de Pays will no longer exist by the end of 2011. It will be replaced with IGPs (Indication Geographique Protegee). In the biggest Vin de Pays producing region in France this is an issue that I’m investigating for Wine Business International.
So, what are the major changes we are likely to see in the Languedoc as a result of the reform?
It appears many Vin de Pays will disappear, swallowed up by larger IGPs. Producers and syndicat presidents estimate that the 50 or so Vin de Pays areas in the Languedoc will merge into fewer than 10 IGPs. It’s great news for us all that the system will be simpler; but it’s inevitably going to upset producers in those smaller areas who have a sentimental attachment to their wine-growing areas.
Expect to see labels saying IGP Pays d’Oc instead of Vin de Pays d’Oc in the future. Some may even make the change their labels as soon as the 2009 vintage
There’s a three-year transition period for all this to take effect so the consequences of this reform won’t be felt fully until 2012. Until then, there will be a lot of confusion and no doubt plenty of upheaval.
Vin de Pays wines will now be governed by the INAO, which also has responsibility for AOCs/AOPs, bringing the two under the same ruling body for the first time. ANIVIT, the former Vin de Pays governing body will now be responsible for Vin de Table wines only, now known as Vin de France.
Phew that’s enough for now.
In my next blog, I’ll update you on the Vin de Table changes: what that means for France’s competitiveness on the world market and why Vin de Pays producer may not bother with IGP and declassify their wines to the lowest rung of the ladder.