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29/06/2009

Letter to the editor- Spawton corrects misinterpretation in article

Tony Spawton, associate professor of wine marketing at the University of South Australia, has rejected claims in a Decanter.com story which appeared on Daily Wine News last Friday, indicating France's wine industry needed to address its serious infrastructure problems.

Spawton told Daily Wine News the article was an interesting interpretation of his presentation at the Vinexpo conference by the reporting journalist.

“What I said was France cannot be considered as the centre of the wine universe any longer for such reasons as;

• Local consumption levels are falling below what are norm for wine producing countries

• The reasons are both societal ( not a rural based economy anymore) so consumption is recreational and occasional rather then traditional

• Consumers have greater eclectic tastes due to migration and the growth in popularity of foods from differing cultures so taste exceptions are changing especially amongst the young

• The failure to realise that the female is the key driver to consumption and French women are abandoning wine for other more acceptable tastes or totally for cosmetic reasons (prefer water)

• The wine consumer (what's left of them) is ageing generally

• The phobia with Grand Cru as the referent of quality whereas the average consumer drinks vin de pay (they do not realise that you judge wine region on the bottom end of consumption and more consumers drink wine at this level) and chasing "Parker Points" at the expense of holding "share of throat" locally

• Local consumption means a need to export — but this is not happening either, as France — once the market leader — is loosing share at the premium end, so becoming dependent on calling for emergency distillation to save producers from liquidation (50 % + of French winemakers do not make a liveable salary), are dependent on a second income or, as I will soon publish in an academic paper depend on finance arrangements especially for exporters — to provide the necessary working capital to survive

• They are pursuing a wine tourism culture to attract tourists from Paris — but the shop window- the brasserie — offers denominational clean- skins as house wines — would anyone invest $500 to travel to the regions to taste more of these non- commercial wines of questionable salability — better to stay in Paris and drink beer (interesting at lunch that day, I was not even offered a wine). Wine is in itself not a tourism destination it is a recreational accessory in the development of a regional tourism culture

• Even when you go to Bordeaux to Vinexpo you would have thought that the brasseries would serve their best. Not so. Some of the house wines were labelled but still not drinkable — very much to the embarrassment of my hosts

• The entire dependency on price and where wine is now sold at 2–3 euro per bottle, "recovering the cost of the package" to give the wine away "for free". "They also use multi-trip and recyclable bottles as well and those dreadful plastic jerry-cans are disappearing — slowly,” he said.

“BIB sales are booming and so far the intrinsic quality is holding up as demanded by the supermarkets who will not associate with unsalable wines without a traceability system and a disaster (product recall) insurance plan.

“The supermarkets may yet save the French wine industry — (they already control 66% and more of distribution) by improving quality at the lower vin de table and vin de pay categories — which between them represent 70% of sales and are gaining share generally in a declining market at the expense of the AOC,” he said.

Spawton said no industry is sustainable at this level — dysfunctional or not.

“There are lessons here for Australia and NZ as I see more and more of these practices being adopted in order to maintain viability,” he said. “These issues have been known for years in France, but the industry just complains and does little about it.”

“The new Eldorado is organic. However, they were devastated when I told them that consumers:

• believe that if wine is " natural" then it must be organic

• they will not pay a premium for organic at the premium / popular premium level

• Consumers pay for the holistic brand — not one component attribute — just ask the cool climate producers — whereas they will a premium for fair trade wines (wines with a social conscience) but even that is now being abused — but that's another story,” he said.

To view the original article, visit www.decanter.com/news/news.php?id=285090.

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