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Burgundy to consider increasing plantings

Two consecutive low volume vintages in Burgundy may mean the region needs to plant more vineyards to solve a current supply-demand imbalance.

In a discussion with Louis-Fabrice Latour in London yesterday, the president of Beaune-based grower and négociant Maison Louis Latour said he “wished” Burgundy was able to produce more wine following the small 2012 and 2013 harvests.

While a vintage in Burgundy produces on average 1.5 million hectolitres, in 2012 that figure was 1.28mhl, and this year he estimated production would total only 1.2mhl following destructive hail storms in the Côte de Beaune.

Due to recent small harvests, including 2010, and an increasing demand for Burgundy worldwide, Latour said that next Tuesday (3 December) there would be a meeting between the growers and négociants to discuss the possibility of increasing plantings in Burgundy.

Explaining the reason for such a discussion, Latour told db, “We don’t want Burgundy to be a rarity; we want a good crop of good quality grapes to make sure the growers make a good living – many growers are in trouble now because the harvest has been too small two years in a row.”

Continuing he observed, “Prices are going up and there is a big demand and there are tons of territories [which are currently not planted to vines] where we could make great wine; we ought to do something.”

He also said that his négociant business was suffering from the shortfall.

“We have hundreds of people working for us and we need wine to sell. If we can’t find it, we will go elsewhere,” reminding db of Louis Latour’s Chardonnay vineyards in the Ardèche and Pinot plantings in The Var as well as, more recently, Beaujolais, following the company’s purchase of Henry Fessy in January 2008.

Louis-Fabrice Latour

Latour stressed that it was important for négociants and growers to meet and agree on the need for more vineyards in Burgundy before planting rights would be granted.

“If there is agreement between the négociants and the growers, then we can talk to the INAO,” he said, noting that without such accord, those at the Ministry of Agriculture would be highly unlikely to allow the region to increase plantings.

But Latour predicted that the growers would only commit to putting in more vineyards if the négociants promised to buy the grapes.

“I think there will be agreement, but only under certain conditions,” said Latour, adding, “We will have to commit to long term contracts.”

Interestingly, Latour then said that he believed Burgundy had been planting the wrong grapes in recent history.

Remarking that the demand from Asia is almost exclusively for red wines, he said, “What we are lacking is Pinot Noir, we don’t feel a shortage for Chardonnay – we have Chablis, the Mâconnais and there’s tons of Chardonnay produced worldwide.”

Continuing he said, “While the market has been asking for reds, we have been planting more white: for example, there is no more Mâcon rouge, which used to be big.”

The temptation to plant Chardonnay has been fuelled by the fact the grape is easier to grow than Pinot – the white variety brings growers bigger yields and more profits according to Latour.

But he added, “We must ask ourselves, the market wants more red and we are planting more white… we should do some thinking.”

Anomalous weather in the last two years aside, Latour also told db that when vintage conditions are good, Burgundy is producing less wine than during the 80s and 90s.

“We don’t have the capacity of 10 years ago in terms of production,” he stated.

When questioned on the causes of this decline, Latour said there was no single reason, but suggested it may be long term changes in climate, as well as the increased level of disease in the vineyards, such as Esca – a virus which affects a vine’s vigour and life span.

He also wondered, “And perhaps we have over produced in the last two decades and the vineyards are now a bit tired?”

As for the hail which almost wiped out the crop this year in Pommard, Volnay and Aloxe-Corton, Latour said that it was just “bad luck”.

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