At last, France's notoriously stubborn wine producers are considering a shake-up of their outmoded classification system. Plus, the perfect recipe for a cooked oysterby Alex Renton / March 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
New hope for French wine?
France is on the brink of a step that may end a quarter-century of decline in its wine industry. The notoriously stubborn French producers have been spurred by some dreadful statistics in a study commissioned by Vinexpo, the French-run international wine show. These include the fact that by 2010 their countrymen will be drinking less wine overall than America, and in consumption per head are due to be overtaken by the Italians. Jean-Marie Chadronnier, a Bordeaux wine-maker and president of Vinexpo, said in February that the French are now drinking half as much wine as they did 50 years ago. And France is getting still worse at selling its wine both at home and abroad.
Although wine consumption continues to grow worldwide—with China and Russia now in the top ten—the French have in recent years struggled to export it. They lost the position of number one exporter in the world to Italy in the mid-1980s, and now have Australia—which expects to have 10 per cent of the world’s export market by 2010—barking at their heels.
France’s ministry of agriculture has long been pushing this expensive, over-producing industry to sort out its marketing and the unwieldy wine classification system. The two issues are, of course, related. Under intense pressure from the agriculture minister, Dominique Bussereau, the industry is likely this spring to agree a new wine classification to join the existing three, which date from the 1930s: vin de table (or basic), vin de pays (identified by region), and the appellation controllée (AOC) labelling that distinguishes higher quality wines according to their terroir, or place of origin. Producers last year rejected the ministry’s attempts to divide the all-but-useless AOC classification into an elite and an ordinary bracket. But the new “Vignobles de France” classification looks like gaining enough supporters to be accepted.
The reality of mass wine marketing, which the French have long refused to address, is that the typical bottle sold in Britain today costs £3 or £4, is between 12.5 and 13 per cent alcohol and is clearly labelled according to grape variety: pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and so on. Much the same is true in the US, the world’s fastest-growing import market. Vignobles de France would establish a national French brand allowing wine-makers to blend vin de pays from different regions and label it according to grape variety. The great bulk of…