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   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 229, June 2023   
The Torments of BordeauxThe Torments of Bordeaux  Contents 
Issue 228, May 2023 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 230, Summer 2023

The Torments of Bordeaux


 There is no peace in the vineyards of Bordeaux. The vintners of the famous French wine land – among the most iconic in the world – are decidedly concerned and are making no secret of it. The French wine industry, to tell the truth, also the one of other countries, is going through a not exactly flourishing period, with significant drops in consumption and sales such as to arouse quite a concern among the producers of the country. Figures are saying the sales and export of French wines, especially those of Bordeaux, are registering a significant decline and not only as regards exports, but also for domestic consumption. The French – this is what the latest estimates seem to suggest – are strongly decreasing the per capita consumption of wine – in particular, the red one – with effects which seem to be significant for the entire wine industry. At the same time, the interest of the French for beer is growing, with consumption clearly increasing to the detriment of wine.


 

 Over the last few decades, the consumption of red wine in France has undergone a drastic drop, going from 120 liters per year in the 1940s to around 40 today. Estimates suggest a further decline for the next few years, forecasting an annual per capita consumption of red wine of just 25 liters. This time it is not because of the infamous effects of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, indeed to the new fads and social trends which favor a greater consumption of white and rosé wines. A decline that has brought its greatest effect, of course, in the territories historically and traditionally committed to the cultivation of red berried varieties, such as Bordeaux, of course. Estimates indicate a drop in the consumption of red wines of -32%, with a consequent economic loss of -6.2% due to lower sales. By way of comparison, the drop in sales volume that is affecting the sparkling wine production in France is just -0.5%. A decidedly significant difference.

 A loss which is having a considerable economic impact on the profits of Bordeaux wineries, so much so that it is starting a real crisis in the sector. For this reason, at the beginning of the year, the vintners of Bordeaux asked for the intervention of the French government in order to get an economic compensation deriving from the loss and which, it seems, are going to happen for the imminent future as well. Furthermore, the vintners have requested to uproot part of the vineyards, an unfortunate and disgraceful operation which not only deprives the environment of the beauty of its vineyards, but also the inevitable loss of profits. After all, if the wine from those vineyards cannot be sold, the only thing left to do is, so to speak, act accordingly and limit future losses. It is a known fact that maintaining and cultivating a vineyard, harvesting its grapes and transforming them into wine has a cost that is not exactly trivial in the budget of any winery. The estimates and requests suggest a frightening quota of 15,000 hectares of excess vineyards, therefore to be uprooted, equal to about 10% of the total area destined for the cultivation of vineyards in the whole territory of Bordeaux.

 Unfortunately, this is not the only problem afflicting the Bordeaux wine industry. If the uprooting of vineyards limits the future production, there is still the problem of the destination or use of the red wine currently produced and which will probably remain unsold. Due to this specific condition, the French government has approved the distillation of the excess quotas for 2023, foreseeing a cost of approximately 160 million euros for the operation. In this regard, it should be noted France had already adopted a similar measure in recent times and, precisely, in 2020. On that occasion, because of the drastic drop in consumption resulting from the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, the French government had approved the distillation of excess wine. Unfortunately, the torments of the Bordeaux vintners do not end there. Indeed, the vineyards of the iconic French wine-growing area are suffering the effects of flavescence dorée, a disease endemic in Europe and with a high spreading capacity.

 The French government, accepting the requests of the Bordeaux winegrowers – also to limit the harmful effects of flavescence dorée – has approved the uprooting of 9,500 hectares of vineyards and allocated 57 million euros for compensation, destined to the winegrowers who will join the campaign. The possibility of uprooting is granted – upon request – to the owners and managers of vineyards in the Gironde area, recognizing them a compensation of € 6,000 for each hectare. Those who adhere to the possibility of uprooting vineyards need to prove that the vines (therefore, not the vineyard) have been in production in the last 5 years and until 2022. Furthermore, it will be necessary to declare the purpose of the uprooting and the future destination of the area where the vineyard is located. Vintners seems to be pushing for a quick and decisive procedure, as they are convinced that the faster it will be done, the better it will be for everyone. The idea of uprooting is certainly dramatic and painful, however it is the premise for limiting future losses, in particular by considering the progressive decline in the consumption of red wine and the possible spreading of flavescence dorée.

 As for the drop in domestic consumption and related to red wines, according to a survey carried out in 2022, the causes would be to be found in the new social trends and habits of the French, a condition that could also extend to the rest of Europe. According to the results of this survey, the drop in the consumption of red wines is due to the concomitant reduction in the consumption of red meat, food for which – notoriously – red wine is preferably paired. Other causes would be to be found in the current preferences of consumers in preferring wines with a lower alcohol volume and, more specifically, wines suitable for aperitifs, such as whites and sparkling wines, which generally have a lower alcohol volume. According to the same survey, another factor which has determined the drop in the consumption of red wines is linked to the decreasing tendency of families to consume meals together in addition to the growing number of single-parent families, in which the only adult chooses not to uncork a bottle of wine – especially, red and robust – to accompany the meal.

 As for the Bordeaux vineyard uprooting campaign, the operation should begin next October and will literally see almost 10% of the vineyards in the area disappear. In this regard, it must be said the majority of these vineyards belong to small and medium-sized wineries, that is the category that has most suffered the severe consequences of the drop in consumption and exports. In fact, to face these losses, small producers were forced to sell off their wine at very low prices, generating a huge loss. A condition that – it must be said – does not concern the big and famous Châteaus of Bordeaux, for which the crisis has not had significant effects, so much so that many of them continue to expand their lands and buy new vineyards. A two-faced crisis, therefore, in which – as always and everywhere it happens – it is the smallest who suffer the worst consequences, with the real risk of disappearing, overwhelmed by higher costs and fewer market opportunities. Maybe it is simply the effect of a passing fad – like the so many we have witnessed in recent decades – with the fluctuating preferences of consumers who, cyclically, prefer a certain style of wine while penalizing the others. Fads have an easy hold on the community: today red wines – also from Bordeaux – have few reasons to smile, while whites, rosés and sparkling wines have good reasons to celebrate. At least until the glasses will return, surely and sooner or later, to turn red again.

Antonello Biancalana



   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 229, June 2023   
The Torments of BordeauxThe Torments of Bordeaux  Contents 
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