Despite the efforts of French politicians, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for marketing French wines.
I bring you tidings of great joy! Now that Christmas is over, especially here in France where the yuletide season lasts all of about an hour and a half, the good news that I would like to spread came to light today, while I was on a panel examining business students in my sort-of-teaching role at the Bordeaux International Wine Institute. It just so happened that a group of future wine industry leaders (we like to think of them that way) proposed a plan to unite all the different regional French wine bodies – Bordeaux’s CIVB, Burgundy’s BIVB, Champagne’s CIVC, InterRhône, etc. – under one overarching organisation which would serve to promote the unified cause of French wines at home and abroad.
For two decades now I have tried to explain to French wine professionals the value of an open-plan, national stand at your average trade event, such as the Wines of Chile pavilion, or the equivalent from almost any New World wine producing country. These benefit from strength in numbers, and in my experience the stand layout usually allows producers to present and even promote their friends’ or competitors’ wines if they happen to be absent when a visitor wants to taste. The French prefer to erect partitions between each producer’s area, and their response to an enquiry into another producer’s wines is more likely to be one of disinterest or even unhelpfulness.
From the consumer’s point of view, if you want to find out loads of cool stuff about wine from most countries, you are but a Google’s throw away from all you can ingest. Wine Australia, Wine Institute of California, Wines of South Africa, Wines of Argentina, Wines of Chile – you name it, you can find it in a jiffy. The message is bold and bright, upbeat and engaging. Try the same approach with “French wine” and the result is not so immediately gratifying: the government’s “min of ag and fish” does have a site for wine, and it will come up on the first page of results, but it mainly offers information on food and wine pairing and is hard to use and frankly rather drab.
For the proudly paradoxical citizens of the Fifth Republic, whose culture is supposedly founded on fraternité (with equal measures of liberté and égalité), the idea of fraternising with their neighbours still seems to be out of the question. Another concept which is often cited but rarely witnessed is solidarité, both in business and in the wider society. The deep-seated insularity of the French, which prevents them from taking an interest in what is happening next door or across the road, also prevents the nation’s wine industry from clubbing together for the common cause of promoting French wines, as their foreign competitors’ manage to do so well.
Having vented a little spleen, I return to the good news: so, a team of youngsters suggested today, unprompted and of their own free will, that French wines would benefit from a unifying body. So I asked them who would finance this activity, to which they quite sensibly replied that funding should come in part from the industry’s members, and in part from government. Undaunted by the gargantuan task of getting the different regions to cooperate on such a scale (brave young souls…), they did recognise the possibly insurmountable challenge of getting money out of a government whose Loi Evin has criminalised almost every effective form of promotional activity around alcohol.
I know, one swallow does not a spring make (and as we in the wine trade know, it’s better to spit anyway), but this did strike me as possibly a defining moment in the future of French wine. Will the young French wine professionals of tomorrow finally become more globally aware, and be able to respond pragmatically to the challenges they face? If so, who knows, we may be within a generation of some real progress being made in this field.
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Rive Gauche Wines is a Bordeaux négociant which offers a range of wines for everyday drinking as well as Crus Classés and other Fine Wines. The company was established in 2011 by Ben Kennedy, formerly Bordeaux buyer for a leading St James’s merchant. The wines on our list are hand-picked on the key criteria of quality and value-for-money, and include numerous undiscovered gems that are exclusive to Rive Gauche.