The Beaujolais region is working to introduce a vineyard-based classification system within the next decade.
Following the model of its Burgundian neighbour, the system will be based entirely on terroir rather than the tasting and pricing factors advocated recently by St Emilion. In a further step to keep the process simple, the model will be limited to a sole “premier cru” qualification for the best sites.
The assessment process for Beaujolais’ 18,000 hectares of vineyard began around four years ago and, said Anthony Collet, marketing and communications manager for Inter Beaujolais, “We’ve done about 40% so far.”
Despite the complexities of establishing this project, he stressed that the end result is designed to help, rather than confuse consumers. “We are an easy to understand region,” remarked Collet, “12 appellations, two grapes, three colours. We want to remain simple.”
Instead, he explained of this scheme, “The whole purpose is to increase the average price for Beaujolais,” adding as a secondary but related objective: “It’s very important for us to show that Beaujolais can age.”
Although UK volume sales of Beaujolais increased by 1.5% last year, with value also in growth, sales of the region’s top cru-level wines fell by 12%. In contrast, there was an explosion of interest in Beaujolais Nouveau, which saw volumes rise by 80%. Analysing this uplift, Collet said: “I think it came from the independents – we had lots of requests for promotional material for events.”
However, with the region enjoying a run of three strong vintages between 2009 and 2011, Collet expressed an ambition to draw attention to the higher quality end of Beaujolais’ output.
Picking out 2009 in particular, which he suggested “will easily last 20 or 30 years”, Collet observed that this vintage supported an important shift among producers in supporting Beaujolais’ quality drive.
“Producers are starting to age their wines and I think with the 2009 vintage they realised that they have to do this,” he remarked.
Although sales are struggling in a number of European markets, Beaujolais enjoyed 2.8% growth in exports last year. According to Collet, China is “doubling every year – and it’s not Nouveau, it’s the top end”; while Russia is “exploding” with triple digit growth. Even Japan, where sales spent 10 years in steady decline, has rebounded since 2009, with Collet reporting “10% growth last year.”
Although Inter Beaujolais will be shifting its UK focus in 2013 towards consumer events such as the Taste festivals and will not be attending next year’s London International Wine Fair, Collet outlined plans for a nationwide programme of trade masterclasses, as well as the organisation’s annual trade tasting in London.