Another disappointing year has deep impact on French winemakers

Disappointing year Deep Impact

The past year was another disappointing year for profound wine-country France. A definite deep impact on the French market share in wine sales. It is losing terrain to competitors like Spain, Italy and lately even China.

Causes low grape-production

This year’s harvesting of wine grapes in the Sancerre area in France was officially allowed since September 30. Never before was the harvest date so late, but this year the weather has been putting a spanner in the works. Hail, tons of rain in May and June and then extreme drought and heat since July. Because of the rainy months many French vineyards had to deal with grape fungus too. This all pushed the harvesting of the grapes further and further into the fall. Luckily, at the end of September there were a few rain showers, which helped the grapes catch up a bit.

Still, this year’s production is disappointing at least, the size of the grapes vary greatly, some are even completely shrivelled up and unusable. That’s not only in the Sancerre area, but in the whole of France. In 2015 France was even passed by Italy in total wine production, with 47,4 million hectoliters against 48,9 million. In late August, the French Ministry of Agriculture already warned that this year’s wine production could be another 10% less than last year, due to all the misfortunes.

Most of the problems appeared in the Bourgogne, Champagne, Chablis and the Loire valley. In that area there are viticulturists who already lost their production months ago. Practically, only the internationally most important Bordeaux vineyards have had a damage-free season. Scant comfort is that the grapes that are harvested seem to be of good quality. However, Sancerre based wine production is going to be at least 35 to 40% lower than last year and many viticulturists pray for this season to be over.

In the more high-class wine region the Bourgogne an average of 20% lower grape harvesting is expected. This region has not been doing good for the past few years that an unseen before turn of events has taken place: grape theft. At least two reports of grape theft in September in the Bourgogne have been made. Vineyards that hadn’t harvested yet made the choice to have private security guards patrolling the yards at night.

The biggest problem with disappointing harvesting results is that viticulturists have contracts with their clients. If the vineyards can’t deliver, that clientele can be lost to competitors, for example from Italy, where wine-production has been more stable lately.

In this image you are able to see the wine producing regions in France.
List of Wine producing regions in France
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Future of French wine production

The climate in France is partly the reason why the French wine-production has been decreasing for the last couple of years. Another reason could be the French bureaucracy and the fact that young French vitculturists have trouble finding business loans to be able to settle a vineyard. Also, only 25% of French vitculturists have the financial freedom for a failed-harvest-insurance, so the economic risks in grape-production are high.

In countries like Italy, Spain, China, Australia and the United States many grape plants have been planted, but the grape-area in France has only been decreasing the last thirty years. Italy and Spain export more wine than France, although the French market value is still the highest in the world with €8,3 billion in 2015.

Jack Ma, Chinese billionaire and founder of international webshop Alibaba, bought three famous Bordeaux winehouses for an amount of over €12 million this year. Here he followed in the footsteps of other Chinese entrepreneurs, a development that frightens many French people. At the moment, France is still the most important wine market in the world, but by 2030 experts expect that China will take over this role.

France realized that making good wine alone is not enough anymore. That’s why they market their wine as a traditional and historic product. In the whole of France there are things like wineroutes and well-attended permanent exhibitions that tourists love. French wine has the advantage of having a rich past and a great historical story around the wine. For example, in France there are still a great number of small, artisan family businesses that highly value the soil (terroir) on which the grapes grow. This is unlike other countries, where wine-making is usually seen as a money-making business, instead of a traditional affair.

Also, because of the increasing competition French wine-makers have professionalized. It is not unheard of that new viticulturists have followed long educations and are improving their way of wine-making and grape growing through research and climatology. That way, things like the best harvesting moment and how to create the best taste are intensely investigated.

In this video some basics about the Bordeaux region and wine in particular.

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