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How Mouton Cadet is responding to a Bordeaux ‘crisis’

With an oversupply of basic wine pushing Bordeaux’s farmers to the brink, the region’s most successful mainstream brand, Mouton Cadet, has announced a move to support its grower-community.

The famous Bordeaux label, which was launched in 1930, and sells 10 million bottles today across 120 countries, is making a change to both support the farmers of its source area and improve its region’s image to the outside world.

Revealed at Wine Paris (12-14 February), Mouton Cadet has achieved Fair for Life accreditation for its best-selling red Bordeaux variant – which accounts for 65% of its volumes – following a three-year audit, in a hope that it will help its growers as well as assure its consumers that the brand is ethical and sustainable.

Speakling to db about the certification (which now features on the bottle), Jérôme Aguirre – who joined Baron Philippe de Rothschild in March 2022 as director of Mouton Cadet Wines – said that Bordeaux was facing a “huge crisis”, which resulted from a combination of low grape prices and rising costs when it comes to production as the region’s climate changes.

As a result, he said, “Today, the young farmer does not want to take risk to produce wine in this territory,” speaking about the growers of Bordeaux.

Concerning the efforts to obtain Fair for Life for Mouton Cadet, he added, “This is to engage small farmers and to maintain vineyards and biodiversity in Bordeaux; it is a key to the future, and I don’t know if it is the best, but it is one vision – it is a small light in a dark night.”

Agreeing with Aguirre, branded wines director for Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Véronique Hombroekx told db, “It is a dark night in Bordeaux because, to be honest, we have too much volume.”

Looking back, she recalled, “When China was rising up as a new El Dorado, a lot of winegrowers planted a lot of hectares to make sure the future was bright… then, well, we all know about the crash of China, and today, volumes [of demand] are back to the level they were in 2000 – this is dramatic.”

Speaking more generally of Bordeaux’s troubles, she added, “Also, the young generation is not very attracted to the wine category, and then we have a difficult context to grow grapes in Bordeaux; you name it, it’s a long list, it’s not one thing, but a lot of things coming together.”

When asked about the impact of the current oversupply on the price of Bordeaux, Hombroekx admitted that it was now possible to buy a barrel of red wine in the region for as little as €500-600, as growers look to offload excess stock.

Consequently, she said that such as “crisis” means that there is less incentive to make wine of quality. Indeed, she said that a demotivating oversupply situation was something that “we need to stop”.

Then she asked, “Do we have the solution? I don’t know, but at least we are trying something; yes this is a little light in the dark, and I hope it will inspire others.”

Continuing, she said “We also need to listen to the consumer, they don’t want complex wine anymore, they want to be seduced by the wine, and we need to understand what they are looking for, which is something rounder, fruitier with softer tannins, and this is what we need to give them. Some are saying ‘this is not Bordeaux’… but we should give them what they want…. We should be tolerant… We need to have a future, and there is no one size fits all, but there can be good initiatives to save Bordeaux; I am very optimistic.”

About Fair for Life and Mouton Cadet

Fair for Life ‘is a product certification programme for fair trade and responsible supply chains in agriculture, manufacturing and trade’, which supports:

  • respect for human rights and decent working conditions;
  • respect for ecosystems and the promotion of biodiversity and sustainable agricultural practices;
  • action for sustainable local development.

In the case of Mouton Cadet, gaining Fair for Life accreditation took three years, and was part of a process devised by the brand owner to ensure the label had a sustainable future.

“We want to make sure we protect the future, which meant protecting the terroir and the wine growers,” explained Hombroekx, admitting that crafting a Bordeaux brand such as Mouton Cadet is far from easy.

“We want to be the best in quality and still be accessible and affordable for people – this is the challenge,” she said.

Continuing, she told db, “Bordeaux is facing a big crisis – and it is not only Bordeaux, it is agriculture in general – and that comes from fact that people need to live decently from their job.”

However, with the commoditisation of Bordeaux, this is becoming harder, and prompted Mouton Cadet to look into how it could improve the prospects for its growers.

“We saw Fair for Life in the cocoa industry, and thought, could that apply in Bordeaux? ‘Yes’, but it took almost three years, because it is not only about a fair price, but looking after the ecology and making sure your sustainability engagement is transparent… it is about protecting the people, it is about fair conditions and a fair price; it is big block chain,” she said.

Such a process had also to be embarked upon at scale, and applied across Mouton Cadet’s network of 150 farmers looking after 1,500 hectares of vineyards, of which 30% are certified organic. Since January, 65% of Mouton Cadet’s 10-million bottle production is accredited ‘Fair for Life’.

As part of this, 1% of Mouton Cadet’s net revenue is re-invested into a fund for its grape growers, who decide together how to spend the money, helped by the brand’s R&D director.

Hombroekx said, “They can spend the fund or keep it and grow it, but it needs to be dedicated to help the winegrowers and the terroir of Bordeaux have a better future.”

Finally, it should be noted that Mouton Cadet is not the first Bordeaux business to hold the Fair for Life certification – the region’s Vignobles Gabriel & Co already have the certification.

However,  Hombroekx stressed that Mouton Cadet was the first brand in Bordeaux to have Fair for Life on the label, and while others, such as Torres Chile have the certification, she also said that it was her belief that Mouton Cadet was the first major, globally-distributed wine brand to hold the label.

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