France steps out at ProWein 2008

Striking a successful balance

For all their advocacy of tradition, French winemakers are running increasingly market-oriented operations. The French winegrowing regions have succeeded in striking a balance between cultivating traditional château wines and contemporary, young and vibrant branded wines. Producing smaller quantities, higher quality and more demand-oriented vintages is the course that France has chosen.

The French vintners have kicked off marketing the 2007 vintage with 47 million hectolitres – the smallest harvest since the severe frosts that characterised 1991. On top of weather-related losses of up to 30 percent depending on the region, French growers like their counterparts across Europe also faced higher raw material prices and transport costs. Despite these challenges, visitors to the French stands at ProWein 2008 can look forward to good wines at reasonable prices.

Together with Spain and Italy, France is one of the world’s three biggest wine producers. In fact, with an average annual output of 55 million hectolitres, France leads the world in this regard. Roughly 470 AOCs (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) and a good 150 protected origins for vin de pays prove the enormous variety coming from this country. From small vintners to international wine groups, the total of 144,000 grower operations are all integrated into the production structure. Roughly three out of four businesses market their wines themselves. In 2006, France exported 2,423,000 hectolitres of wine valued at EUR 600 million to Germany. In terms of quantity, that makes Germany the second biggest market for French wines, after the UK and ahead of the USA. Measured in value, German imports are the third largest – altogether 13.8 million hectolitres worth EUR 5.6 billion reached the German market (source: French customs/SOPEXA).

Mirror for the French wine industry
Of the 3,000 ProWein exhibitors, about 400 are French. They will once again take the floor either with individual presentations or at one of the ten regional joint stands or be represented by importers. The spotlight will be on the following regional participations (exhibitor numbers in brackets): Alsace (18), the Loire valley (44), the Rhône-Alpes region (3), Corsica (4), southwest France (20), Aquitaine (23), Bergerac (11), Provence (6) and the Rhône valley (32). For the first time, the Languedoc und Roussillon AOC and pays de vin producers will share a stand. Under the umbrella of the newly established “Sud de France” association, 57 exhibitors – the biggest group – will be presented.

Of course, the many small French vintners and estates will yet again be joined by their heavyweight compatriots at ProWein 2008. Leading the pack will be wine giants Les Grands Chais de France and Groupe Castel. Ackermann-Remy Pannier and Bouvet-Ladubay will tout Loire specialities. The biggest and most renowned of the Bordeaux wine merchants such as Grands Vins Gironde, Ginestet, and Dourthe Kressmann will also take their place in Düsseldorf. The Rhône will make its presence felt not only with a number of “négociants” such as Jérôme Quiot and Gabriel Meffre but also many cooperatives such as Cave de Cairanne, the Vignerons Ardechois, Rasteau and Tain l’Hermitage. The flavours of Burgundy will be represented by Blasons de Bourgogne, Boisset wine merchants and such bastions of tradition as Albert Bichot and Maison Latour. Cooperatives from the southwest including Vignerons de Buzet and Producteurs Plaimont, among others, will carry their region’s colours. The top southern wineries (Skalli, Bessière, Jean Jean) and cooperatives (Vignobles Foncalieu, UCCOAR, Vignerons Catalans, Val d’Orbieu) will also be greeting visitors. ProWein will also feature French Champagne and its creators, including Champagne Laurent Perrier, Champagne de Saint Gall and Nicolas Feuillatte.

The first stop to help you get your bearings among the wealth of French offerings should be SOPEXA and its joint stand in Hall 5 where the popular tasting zone, this year entitled “France 2008”, will be located. Trade visitors are welcome to take their time over tasting the 100 best wines from around France or to participate in tastings with commentary before heading to the stands of their preferred exhibitors.

All roads lead to the Düsseldorf trade fair venue
For French exhibitors, the annual ProWein fair is one of the key events on the calendar, thanks chiefly to the early date in March and trade-visitors-only policy. Christoph Palmowski (PHOTO), marketing director of Roussillon-based Vignerons Catalans considers participation in ProWein essential: “Here, our wines have an ideal forum both in terms of the specialist and food retail.” Wolfgang Zuzok (PHOTO) from Düsseldorf’s Vinergie, which has been a ProWein exhibitor from day one, agrees. The managing director of Vinergie, a company that represents the leading French cooperatives from the southwest, Provence, the Rhône and Burgundy, explained, “Our portfolio contains heterogenous wines that appeal chiefly to specialist retailers. ProWein is a good forum for reaching them. Plus, with the extension of our range into food retail, this is the perfect event for us. ProWein is the only trade fair where Vinergie steps out under its own name and all the cooperatives under its umbrella are showcased together. As a result, all the decision makers from France also appear at the stand.”

ProWein also holds important international cachet for France’s producers. “We are forging growing numbers of international contacts,” pointed out Palmowski. Jean-Marc Poincot, who is in charge of exports at the Bordeaux wine merchants GVG Grands Vins Gironde, also sets store by the fair’s international reach: “ProWein is the place where we find precisely the potential customers that interest us. The market is open to good wines intended for upmarket food and specialist retail outlets. And that’s not just true of Germany. At ProWein last year, we came into contact with importers from Belarus and now also sell our products in Mongolia.” When it comes to launching and establishing a brand at international level, there’s no getting past the Düsseldorf trade fair venue. Of that, Gertjan van Arkel (PHOTO) who heads up European exports at Chamarré SCA, is clearly convinced: “Considering our goal of seeing the Chamarré brand positioned on the global stage, we have to leave our mark at the big international trade fairs. ProWein offers us an opportunity to support our relatively new activities, particularly in Eastern Europe. Aside from the German market, we also meet up with potential customers from Scandinavia, Switzerland and Austria.”

Traditional and trendy
Good quality at good prices and a consumer-friendly range of wines – that’s the motto in the French hall at ProWein 2008. Here, traditional blends from various growing regions are as much at home as light, fruity wines of all hues. With the current vogue for rosé wines, France has a strong hand to play at the trade fair. France’s winemakers are responding to new wine drinkers’ needs with brand-like concepts and smart, cutting-edge equipment. Alcohol-free and low-alcohol wines take into account the move to healthy lifestyles in the same way as the range in organic or integrated production wines, where demand is sometimes even outstripping supply.

Visitors can also look forward to the first wines from new appellations, including AOC Languedoc, AOC Côtes de Bordeaux and AOC Malpère. Plus, the Vins de Pays des Vignobles de France, which is now recognised under French wine law, will be making its first official appearance at ProWein 2008. The French offerings will be rounded out by interesting innovations in spirits such as blue pastis and a rose, violet and red poppy liqueur.

The author, Brigitte Engelmann, works as a freelance journalist for various wine publications.