Southern France Turns Around Wine Marketing Ways
Southern France is one of the world's oldest, toughest wine-making regions, and now is seen as both the most innovative and biggest regional exporter. (AP via Breitbart.com, February 19,2008).
A pleasant turnaround say exhibitors at this years 8th Mediterranean wine trade fair, Vinisud, given that this part of France only five or six years ago was one of the hardest hit by competition from so called "New World" producers -- Australia, America, Chile, Argentina, to name a few.
In the last two or three years it has earned itself the title of most innovative and is now volume the leading regional exporter of French wines with seven million hectolitres shipped abroad in 2007.
"Last year 1.3 million bottles of Arrogant Frog were exported to Australia, a 20 percent increase on 2006," said Jean Claude Mas, the wines Languedoc-based producer. Mas says those figures make it the most imported French wine in Australia.
Asked why, he points to the label showing a jaunty frog in a red jacket and beret, swinging a walking stick. "It is constructive self derision. We have always been told we are second rate, by Bordeaux, by Burgundy, so we have to go at things another route."
The producing region of southern France broadly includes Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhone, Provence, Midi-Pyrenees and Corsica -- but the Languedoc and the Rhone are probably the best known outside of France.
Slick Packaging - Aluminum Bottle
Eye-catching names such as Arrogant Frog, Fat Bastard, the Rhoning Stones and Bois-Moi (Drink Me), are certainly part of the story, as is the willingness to try ever newer, ever slicker packaging.
"As far as I know this is the first ever wine in a full size aluminium bottle," said Stephane Oudar, export director of Boisset, a producer already famous for putting its Languedoc wines, red, white and rose, in a tetra pack and calling it French Rabbit.
Next year, or sooner, Boisset will launch its new range of Organic French Rabbit in a tetra pack. To date both the tetra pack and the aluminium bottle, to be launched in the US in two months, are aimed mainly at export markets rather than "traditional" -- meaning French and other European consumers -- ones.
Other innovations include the Kube, a clear plastic box with a bag of wine inside -- one up on the plastic pouch plus cardboard surround bag-in-box type structure. It is better, say producers, because it is more easily recyclable, being all plastic, rather than a plastic paper mix, and you can also, if desired, stick it in the snow or a river.
Apart from the names and the packaging however, there is the wine itself, which tastes better than many mid-range wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy.
"We dont bother with Vinexpo (the major Bordeaux wine trade fair held in alternate odd numbered years), the value is here," said Peter Ward, a buyer from Ireland.
The reasons for this, say both local and outside producers, are the ideal weather and soil conditions for wine growing.
There is also a far wider range of wine-making techniques for those who choose to make wines in the lesser ranking, but more innovative, Vins de Pays dOc category.
"It is a more liberal system here, with the vin de pays appellation," said Ruth Simpson, producer of Le Coq DOc wine. Simpson, who owns Domaine Sainte Rose with her husband, moved to the region to produce wine five and a half years ago and says they chose the region for that reason.
"You can use wood chips, wood planks, you can irrigate, you can plant different, more commercially useful grape varieties. It is a microcosm of the new world," Simpson said.
For the organisers of this years Vinisud, which started in 1994 and is held in every even numbered year, that is precisely the point.
Everywhere around the show posters proclaim "The New French Style" and both buyers and exhibitors are happy to claim comparisons to the new world, that might be an insult elsewhere in the country.
Indicating further progress in the region, Vinisud 2008 is also boasting increased exhibitor figures of 1,600 stands, increased visitor numbers, expected to reach 35,000 people and a 200 percent increase in foreign buyers.
"This area is now competing with New World," said James Nicholson, a buyer for the UK and Ireland. "In Bordeaux, the top 30 chateaux can just sell what they make. Here everyone has to be innovative."
Even apart from trade show figures, however, Simpson points out another telling sign of success. The shadowy militant group -- the Comite Regional d'Action Viticole (CRAV) -- known for its emptying of wine vats in the middle of the night, sabotaging of railway lines, and sweeping of foreign wines off supermarket shelves, has not been in the news recently.
"CRAV has certainly calmed down since prices went up," she said simply.