Wine Surplus Gives France Headaches
Christian Charcossey– August 19, 2004
France's wine industry is bracing for a problem of Bacchanalian proportions this year, with bountiful grape harvests expected to flood a world market being taken over by competitors from Australian, US and other "New World" wineries.
According to agriculture ministry figures, up to 5.7 billion litres of wine — enough to fill 7.6 billion normal wine bottles — will be produced this year, 20 percent more than in 2003, because of good weather.
It will be the biggest output in five years. But while wine-lovers may raise a toast at the prospect of abundant Burgundies and Bordeaux, some French wine-growers are fearing for their livelihoods, and for France's place as the world's top wine exporter.
Overall wine exports, not including Champagne, are down around nine percent so far this year, confirming a declining taste for French labels on increasingly crowded supermarket shelves in other countries.
At the same time, sales of "New World" wines have been barrelling along.
Last year, for the first time, their sales outstripped those of French wines and they are continuing to win over palates and grab bigger slices of markets in Britain, Canada and Germany that used to be dominated by French bottles. The United States, a multi-billion dollar customer for plonk, takes in more Italian and Australian wines than the French stuff.
At home, French consumption is also dropping as consumers limit the traditional mealtime glass or three for health reasons and because of stricter drink-driving checks.
To breathe new life into the industry, the government last month announced it would from 2006 allow wine-growers to change centuries of practice by labelling bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy according to grape variety (for instance "Cabernet", "Merlot" or "Pinot Noir").
Other measures, including lifting a French ban on wood chips to artificially enhance flavour as is done in other countries, are being studied but would have to be authorised at an EU level.
How good the quality of the wines from the 2004 harvest will be is yet unknown and will depend on how much rain falls later this month.
The Champagne region east of Paris should do very well this year, and "qualitative" reserves are expected to be well stocked as a result. Alsatian wines farther east will also be produced in significant amounts.
The central Burgundy and Beaujolais areas had some hail in July that ruined some vines, but overall yields should be satisfactory.
The Bordeaux region in the southwest has had exceptional conditions that should greatly boost production
|Originally Published on ©2004 AFP
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