Vicky's adventures

Beaujolais vs Burgundy: an example of why France is losing market shares

French wine ranked 5th in British sales announced the media last week… Should we all drop a tear or wake up and walk? While the new wine countries are rising and advertising like we have never seen, civil wars are still occurring in France. I am now spending my time in the beautiful Beaujolais region at the border of Burgundy, in the middle of a conflict much older than me.

Burgundy mainly grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Since 1937, nine of the crus of Beaujolais, that grows Gamay grapes, have the right to call their wines Burgundy. The Burgundy organization, celebrating its 20 anniversary, wants to stop this permission, saying that it would be betraying costumers by selling Gamay wines under the Burgundy appellation. The Burgundy anger also comes from a fear of seeing Chardonnay grapes widespread in Beaujolais (now it is only 3% of the lands).



Most of Beaujolais vine growers don’t mind the Burgundian anger and tell them to keep their Burgundian name if they wish. “Let them know that we are proud to be called Beaujolais and that our wines are excellent” says Dominique Cappart, president of the InterBeaujolais organization. Only a few of the Beaujolais winemakers call their wines Burgundy anyway and Beaujolais would be nothing without its name, its land and the tradition in the wine making process. Even though the “Beaujolais nouveau” has not been a good thing to promote the quality of Beaujolais wines overall, it had the advantage to widespread the Beaujolais name internationally. Today, Beaujolais wines have their own identity and growing in popularity.

Beaujolais is gaining a reputation of making wine that has a very good quality to price ratio and some of their vintage and crus like the Moulin à Vent are able to age just as a Burgundies.
I’ve tried a few lately besides the one my family makes and I p articularly liked the Moulin à Vent and the White Beaujolais from the Château des Jacques, one of the best wine maker in Beaujolais. I also loved this night drinking the Beaujolais-Village from the Château de Lavernette: so fruity and refreshing for the palate that you could drink it all night long. I also particularly like the Saint Véran that is a white with strong character at the border of Mâconnais.

This is not about whether or not Beaujolais needs Burgundy to gain recognition but more about the French division. This childish fight is going against the actual trend coming from the new world countries that is to create more national homogeneity and cordial entente to help market wine. Add to it the strength of the euro compared to the dollar and the pound and it becomes impossible for French wine to sell.

War is on but some Burgundian investors attempt to restore peace, believing that Beaujolais has a real potential. Houses like the “Maison Henriot” in Fleurie that bought back the “Château de Poncié” or the “maison Louis Jadot”, owned by Americans that bought two chateaux in Beaujolais under the “Chateau des Jacques” name. One of their white is called a White Burgundy even though it is made in Beaujolais because the wine making and vine growing processes are closer to the Burgundian one. This is also the case for the Crémant de Bourgogne (sparkling wine) also made in Beaujolais.

If the British don’t buy French wine anymore, this is not because of its bad quality. The British just can’t afford our wines and are lost in the multitude and complexity of names.They are even so keen on French wine that 25 UK retailers and importers (Tesco, Morrisons…) have gathered to help save it, they wrote a letter to the agriculture and fishery minister to beg him to react and encourage the country to create a more generic and nation-wide campaign. I personally believe that the variety of wines in France, it long history and savoir-faire should make it number one in the world. But we are too focused on our civil wars and have been too used to our success to take out the ribbon in front of our eyes and see what we are doing badly.

In the society of consumption, it is time to think of marketing and rework our communication strategy. I must say I really like the state of the art now, with historic brands, regional division… but if we ever want to regain market share or stabilize, it is important that we use the new world drinkers label habits, classified by grape variety. My father will tell you that it doesn’t make sense because the territory and the way the wine is made is clearly important in the final product quality and taste. The Grape doesn’t make it all. But sometimes homogenization and marketing are the only way to save a product whose renown and quality value has been lost in the crowd. Let’s make national wines and brand our bottles… or in a few years our grand children will say.. France is a wine country ? Ah really ? I’ve never heard about it.

New World Wines from Old World Vines
A good example is the O’Vineyard family small vineyard owned by a couple of Americans that came to the south of France to make wine. They brought along the new wine country marketing methods and diverse wine making process and made simple wine with an amazing story line around them. You can try the Mojo that besides reminding the name of the winemaker Joe and “juice” in Spanish will also recall you Austin Power. And of course the 3 O’Podium that are three wines made from the same land but vinified in 3 different ways – steal, American Oak and French oak – great experience and perfect gift.

Miss Vicky Wine 297 posts

My father is a wine maker in beaujolais and I go sip wines everywhere. I was first know as a wine blogger, today I also write in French on a national magazine online plateform that is hosting my wine blog. They wanted someone to give a fresh twist to the French wine world. They got me. Read more

4 Comments

  • overabarrel (4005 days ago) Reply

    The fight over the word Burgundy may be emblematic of the narrow focus of the French wine industry, but it does make sense to label wines from the specific region and vineyard. This is done also in the New World. But the name of the grape can be added to the label to help identify it for those who want to buy wines based on the grape. It loses nothing to add to the label.

    French wine law involves so much more than appellations though. There are rules about which grapes are allowed, how to farm, when to pick, and just about everything else. If these rules were liberalized--and the wines labeled as such--the French might be able to market their wines better, but they'd also have to learn how a market works. Right now they seem to feel if their wines aren't selling, they will raise the price. Just the opposite of how markets work.

  • Vicky Wine (4004 days ago) Reply

    Yes you are right, starting by puting the grape name would be already a good thing for the French to help sell in the new world and it won't change anything to the label. As such, A beaujolais cru could be called a Burgundy with the word GAMAY on the label that would make the difference.

    For the rest, I don't know if all laws are harmful, most of them are part of our history and gives our wines the specificity it has today. I don't mind having to pick at a specific period and having quotas. But yes, maybe we should liberalize labels a bit more and make it easier to market our products. What you say about the French not knowing how to use the market is true, right now some very good wines are selling at a ridiculous price and most producers don't know how to use the market to their advantage.

  • Thierry (4001 days ago) Reply

    It is easy and relevant to display the kind of grapes being used in a specific wine when it is a "simple" wine - e.g. Shiraz, Cabernet-Merlot, which the "new world" wine makers are good at, but when it comes to Bordeaux where over 12 varieties can be artistically balanced, this marketing method does not work anymore. In Australia, many French wines are cheaper and more refined than local wines, but they do not sell that well. Why? Customer education and experience. Local customers tend to drink to get drunk and do not car too much about the complexity or history of the product. Those who have the cash will probably buy $50+ wines but prove to be totally ignorant regarding high-end wines. They become a social status. It is now very common to see some Australian champagnes and Camembert. But only the designations are familiar, not the products which have nothing to do with real Champagne and Camembert. Designations are protected worldwide and should stay this way, otherwise you going to end up with zillions of products bearing designations that will not reflect the true origins and values of a product. It is all about marketing, true, but also about consumers' and retailers' education and integrity.

  • Vicky Wine (3999 days ago) Reply

    Wine that are labelled with the kind of grape will be allowed from August the 1st this year in France, this is probably not the solution to all our problems but it is a first good step to reach the new world. This anecdot about Australian selling French wine cheap and being poorly educated to drink it as they should is very desolating and also happens in France unfortunatly.

    I really don't want the French to loose their wine designations and history in marketing campaign that would not look like them but there is something to change, and you know educating the costumer is a hard and long homework! I don't know what is best yet but I am optimistic, we'll find a way to save our wines!

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