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Friday Forum: Wines of France wants the market back

Anita Donaldson

A report on timesonline.co.uk under the headline France relaxes its old wine rules to fight off New World challenge signals new Government-lead moves in France to wrest back export marketshare from rivals such as Australia and California. Industry commentators in Australia have also pointed out, the move is highly geared to re-engage with young French consumers on their home soil where domestic consumption is shrinking. Meanwhile one of Australian industry’s leaders, Wine Australia’s general manager market development Paul Henry, says it could also be a signal the days of ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ are numbered.

The Times report authors, Charles Bremner and Marie Tourres wrote: “After long scorning the international appetite for ‘vulgar’ wine, France joined the fray on May 30 and allowed growers to make and market their product in the fruity fashion of the New World. Wood chips, added tannin and other ‘foreign’ techniques will be tolerated in a new category of mid-quality wine that will be defined by grape variety rather than origin.”

Essentially, this means France has entered the realm of New World wine marketing, forged by Australia in recent decades, where wines are named by varietal, and grapes can now be grown anywhere within France and sold under the new Wine of France category.

And they’re ready to take Wines of France to the world. According to industry e-newsletter, winespirits daily.com France has stepped up its marketing announcing an additional US$2.6 million campaign for Wine Of France in the USA focusing on key markets of New York, Washington DC, South Florida, California, Illinois, Texas and Massachusettes. The promotional campaign is accompanied by a new website, www.wines-france.us that is aimed at educating Americans about grape varietals and French wine regions.

Jim Fortune, former chief executive of the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, now wine industry consultant in Australia, has been watching the French market closely. Looking beyond the move for its impact on the world wine export market, Fortune says one of the key aims of the French activities is to sell more wine at home.

He reminds: “The French have been doing big blended brands quite clearly labelled for years — it’s called Champagne and they have all the tricks of cross-vintage blending, dosage with sugar, extensive and novel package development, and recurrent marketing budgets that often seem to know no boundaries”.

Though philosophical about the French moves, Wine Australia’s Paul Henry offered a word of warning: “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery; but it is not necessarily the smartest way to reposition yourself”.

“France has been responding to the New World challenge well in advance of this legislation, and certainly it needs to go beyond just branding and messaging to be effective,” Henry said.

“Perhaps ironically, while France is looking to free itself from prescriptive wine legislation in search of the modern consumer, Australia is flirting with quasi-appellated approaches of its own in order to encourage a new chapter of awareness for its regionally distinct wine.

“Perhaps the realisation is that no single market, or indeed single market segment, is going to be satisfied by one country alone. For France, the 'new ground' challenge is attracting new to market drinkers that want accessibility and ease of understanding; for Australia, it is retaining the new or early adopters that it has created. In very simple and exaggerated terms, France is looking to dumb itself down while Australia is trying to sex itself up.

“I think it potentially marks an end to the relevance of the Old and New World divide, and ultimately there will just be countries or brands that are relevant and compelling, and those that are not.

“However, a note of caution to our competitors — Australia's early commercial success went far beyond price positioning, varietal labelling and easy-drinking styles. It was a new attitude to the marketing of wine, which sought to engage and inform the consumer directly. As a result, today's modern consumer already has that expectation, and so to differentiate yourself another new and significant marketing shift is required.

“The successful category of today certainly needs to be consumer-led and customer-focussed, but it also needs to be philosophically sound rather than just commercially pragmatic. Fairtrade; footprints; sustainable practices; cause marketing etc. are all new areas of consumer interest that need to be accommodated and successfully addressed. That takes more than just a colourful marsupial or an attitudinally-challenged amphibian”…

Australian winemakers: Have you worked in France? Tell us your thoughts about the impact of these new branding moves on French wineries? How might France’s winemakers and consumers react? What impact do you think Wines Of France may have on the world wine market?

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