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French wine producers and officials, stung by plunging exports, are urgently considersidering actions to regain market share that has been lost to New World producers and to Spanish and Italian producers. Rene Renou, head of the French appellation system, said he is planning revolutionary changes to French wine laws.

Renou, the president of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine), said during a meeting at an Oxford food conference that his proposals would be the first wholesale revision of the laws since they were instituted in 1935, when French wines dominated the world wine trade.

"France must find a system such that the label tells you exactly and honestly what's in the bottle." He said the system must be changed in order to make it clearer to consumers.

One of his proposals is the creation of a new AOCE (appellation d'origine controlee d'excellence) which will guarantee the wine reaches a standard degree of excellence.

While current AOC regulations require wines to be tasted to ensure declared grape varietals and place of origin, Renou admitted the system is plagued by cronyism. As the tastings tend to be held locally, wine is evaluated by friends and neighbors of the producer. He says this will not be the case for the proposed AOCE.

And in the city of Bordeaux, more than 300 wine producers held closed door meetings in mid-April to discuss changes to halt a plunge in sales. One item being discussed was the possibility of taking out some vineyards and improving the quaity of the product, according to a report by Reuters news service.

Sales of Bordeaux were down to 150.6 million gallons in 2003 and the Interprofessional Council for Bordeaux Wines (CIVB) trade body expects a further drop this year. Some 5-10% of the region's 9,000 producers are facing serious financial problems.

At the meeting, getting rid of some Bordeaux vineyards was not promoted--but neither was it ruled out. "There was unanimity that uprooting of vineyards is not a goal as such, but one of several elements to improve the quality," said Roland Fered of the CIVB. The taboo subject of the poor quality of many Bordeaux wines sold in large volume distribution and for export was also addressed at the meeting.

It is quite clear that the French are concerned with the virtual collapse of the market. What isn't clear is if they are willing to take measures--such as varietal labeling--to become more competitive.

Antinori Family In New Zealand

Campo di Sasso, a company owned by Piero Antinori and his younger brother Ludovico, has bought about 30 acres of vines in the district of Marlborough for $1.5 million. The vineyard is planted to Sauvignon blanc. An Antinori spokesperson said a vineyard will be built there with the intention of creating a world-class white wine.

Chablis Growers To "Hot Wire" Vineyards

Two Chablis winegrowers, weary of losing a substantial portion of their grapes to spring frosts, are going to install an electric heating system in the vineyards. The heating system was developed with the French electricity board, EDF, which hopes to market it across Europe. It involves running a plastic-covered electric cable along the wires that support the growing vines, according to a report in The Guardian.

The cable will be linked to a thermostat that kicks in when the temperature falls below 39[degrees]. The system should maintain a constant temperature of 68[degrees]F within a 10cm radius of the cable, EDF said--enough, in most cases, to save between 70% and 90% of a harvest in cold snaps of minus 4[degrees]F.

One of the heating system's inventors, Bernard Hervet, told Le Parisien newspaper: "The cold snap last spring and the heat wave last summer cost us 50% of our harvest." Hervet, who runs a 40-hectare Chablis vineyard (1 hectare = 2.47 acres), added: "No business can afford too many repeats of that."

Gallo To Import French Wine

E. & J. Gallo is working on a new French wine brand for the U.S. market. The wine, made in the Languedoc region of France, is to be called Red Bicyclette. A Gallo spokesperson told Wines & Vines that the wine would be introduced in the United States "later in the year."

"At this point, we have no further details," Nicole Dowswell, Gallo's international public relations chief, said.

Although no pricing has been released, it is likely that the brand will be aimed at the value end of the market, as the California wine glut has all but disappeared and sourcing of inexpensive wines from the state has become more difficult.

Gallo already imports wines from Italy (Maso Canali, Ecco Domani, Bella Sera, DaVinci Chianti), Australia (McWilliam's and Black Swan) and New Zealand (Whitehaven). None of those wines are available in any other market.
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Title Annotation:wineries; market size
Author:Walker, Larry
Publication:Wines & Vines
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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