Wine crisis: white, crémant, rosé… Bordeaux is trying to dust itself off

Fresh wines to rejuvenate the image of Bordeaux? Often summed up in its great red wines which can “cause a little dust”, the famous French vineyard wants to promote its rosé, white or crémant wines, a marketing offensive against a backdrop of persistent overproduction.

This is one of the axes of restructuring of the prestigious appellation: in addition to a subsidized uprooting plan of 9,500 hectares of vines to the tune of 57 million euros, the counter of which should open at the beginning of June, and a campaign of distillation of surpluses, the sector is also carrying out a seduction operation.

The interprofession of the first AOC vineyard in France with 110,000 hectares, of which 85% in red, launched this month the “Fresh and Bordelais” promotional campaign. It targets people under 35 and highlights its white, rosé, sparkling or red wines served chilled, to compete with beers and other aperitifs.

“We especially need to gain proximity. People say to themselves: + Bordeaux wines, it’s for me too +”, explains to AFP Florence Bossard, marketing director of the Interprofessional Committee of Bordeaux Wines (CIVB) .

– “Part of throat” –

“There is a lot of throat to go for”, she illustrates, without denying the patinated image of the grands crus, which represent 5% of Bordeaux surfaces and 30% of turnover.

“It may get a little dusty, but it has value,” she says.

In 2022, according to the specialized research firm IRI, sales of non-sparkling wines fell by 6% over one year in France, “more on reds (-9%) than on whites (-6%) or rosés (-1%)”.

“I am very confident about the development of white wine”, especially internationally, says Jacques Bouey, president of the Bordeaux trading house Bouey.

According to him, the vineyard has “collectively missed” these new consumption patterns for ten years. “Our roots will remain the castles, the red, the breeding, the assembly… But we must open our field of proposals”, he judges.

Thierry Bonnet examines a rosé wine from his production in Soussac in Gironde, May 26, 2023 (AFP – MEHDI FEDOUACH)

Some winegrowers have taken the lead in diversifying their offer, such as Crémant, whose production has almost doubled in five years.

In Soussac, near Bordeaux, Thierry Bonnet switched to 100% rosé in 2014 to “stand out” from his neighbours.

“I was crazy about Bordeaux”, laughs the winemaker of the Château Marot estate (25 hectares), who will harvest his first organic cuvée this year. “We saw the crisis coming and we said to ourselves: why not the rosés?”

This investment of 100,000 euros allows Thierry Bonnet and his partner Sylvie Morin to resist “a little better” than their neighbors faced with the fall in trading prices for red wine.

– “It’s flan!” –

“Today, the bet is won,” he told AFP in his property in Entre-deux-mers where the 2022 vintage has entirely passed. “Here the vats are empty. Now my neighbors tell me: + You, you are lucky, you make rosé +.”

For the local collective of winegrowers Viti33, which is calling for more subsidized uprooting in the face of overproduction estimated at one million hectolitres, this communication campaign on fresh wines will not be enough.

“It’s flan!” Asserts its spokesperson Bastien Mercier. “The problem is that fashion changes very quickly. Tomorrow, perhaps rosé will no longer be fashionable. And when everyone has taken to crémant, crémant will go down the drain.”

Florence Bossard recognizes that this is not a “miracle” solution, but considers it positive “to try to grab market share”, especially in the United States or the United Kingdom, great lovers of white wines.

Thierry Bonnet in front of the vats of his cellar at Château Marot in Soussac in Gironde, May 26, 2023 (AFP - MEHDI FEDOUACH)
Thierry Bonnet in front of the vats of his cellar at Château Marot in Soussac in Gironde, May 26, 2023 (AFP – MEHDI FEDOUACH)

Bastien Mercier rather advocates a relaxation of the “so complex” specifications of the AOC Bordeaux, in order to “adapt to demand”, for example with sweeter wines. Some Bordeaux winegrowers prefer to produce under the less restrictive “Vin de France” appellation.

“We have new proposals without sulphites and the reality is that we do not make them in the Bordeaux appellation”, confirms Jacques Bouey, whose house operates 65 hectares in the Médoc. “A little more freedom wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

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