Wineries bounce back from health crisis "body blow"

French winegrowers say they aim to bounce back from the double body blow of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit.

The ongoing health crisis has wrought havoc with some parts of the sector and this has been compounded by uncertainty about the impact Brexit will have on trade with the UK.

But an event in Brussels heard that some wineries have responded to the crisis by coming up with inventive solutions, including “drive-in” venues where customers can purchase quality wines as easily as a burger.

This could one of the more unusual ways of compensating for a loss in trade due to falling sales, says Philippe Verrier, sales manager for the award winning Couly-Dutheil estate in Chinon.

He was among representatives from 18 French wine growing regions who took part in the event at Aux Armes de Bruxelles in Brussels on 13 October.

Organised by the Vignobles & Signatures Club,the gathering was a chance for the country's top wine estates to showcase their high end products.

Founded in 1984, Vignobles & Signatures brings together family houses representing all the major French wine regions.

The Club started with 8 leading winegrowers from 8 major appellation areas but, today, is an economic force in the French wine industry.

Verrier told this website, “The last few months, since the start of the pandemic, have been terrible. We have lost about 15 per cent of our business, not least because our biggest market is the restaurant sector and people are simply not currently going out to eat.

“That means we all have to be a bit more creative in our thinking and come up with solutions for addressing this serious problem. People are still drinking wine, albeit more at home than they used to because of concerns about going out. So our job is to make sure that people still have access to our wines via wine shops. Another way could be ‘drive-ins’, a bit like the takeaway chains, where customers can collect wines and then take them home. At least,that gives us another outlet to sell wines.”

Founded in 1921, Domaine Couly-Dutheil used to traditionally kick off the start to the wine harvest in Chinon. It is an estate that boasts an impressive string of awards, national and international ones, and the owner of prestigious “terroirs”, including the famous Clos de l’Olive and Clos de l’Echo.

The vineyard is run using environmentally friendly growing techniques, a rigorous approach helps to preserve the natural qualities of the harvest.

Arnaud Couly Dutheil has managed the family estate since his dad’s death in March 2016.He is recognized as one of the most talented and creative young vintners from the Loire Valley. “Before reintegrating the family house, I travelled the world of wine – all in all 13 countries – including the United States and Australia. I discovered new ideas, aromatic wine-flavored palettes, which we have adapted to existing in-house techniques.”

Representing another winery at the event was Jean-Paul Durup, from Maligny, who said the crisis has also had a “big impact” on his business, adding, “Restaurants account for most of our sales so if they are forced to close it is obviously going to affect us badly.”

He added, “Another potential problem is Brexit. If there is no agreement and the UK leaves the EU on WTO terms then this could also have an adverse impact.”

His estate includes the highest portion of steep and stony best-exposed slopes in Chablis, the “home” of Chardonnay.

There has always been a member of the Durup family growing vines in Chablis and Jean Durup recreated the vineyard of Chateau de Maligny, which was managed by his great grandfather Paul Gally in the 19th century. He inherited only 2 hectares from his father in 1968 and now owns 206. Jean-Paul Durup, Jean’s son, has worked alongside Jean since 1996.

Jean-Paul senior says, "Our village is the basis of our roots, of our entire family. We only make Chablis, on an estate allowing us to produce up to 13 different products each year - wines adapted to every palate. They say that wine resembles its producer, I think that this is the case; it’s a neat, frank and a straight forward wine”.

All the represented at the wine event acknowledged the contribution by the Vignobles & Signatures Club which represents wineries producing, annually, some 12m bottles of wine, with a turnover of €86m and employeeing over 400 people. Its members belong to the leading family producers from France’s chief appellation areas.

The Club's press officer Michele Piron said such an alliance "allows the wine estates to share preoccupations and views. This exchange allows for a greater and quicker awareness of current problems and solutions.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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