Domaines Paul Mas, Languedoc-Roussillon
We are entering a new phase in terms of export. The past five years has seen a rebalance and we’re seeing the comeback of the Old World. Traditional markets like Scandinavia, the UK, North America and Ireland are all taking a renewed interest in the Old World. There is a global change in styles of wine, but the pendulum swing is more to do with consumers’ understanding of the corporate nature of much of wine. The new world has put too much stress on the industrial nature of its wines. You can see this clearly in Australia, where some family wineries, making outstanding wines, are wanting to distinguish themselves from the big guys.
Markets are cyclical. Languedoc-Roussillon can now learn from its mistakes, and from the mistakes the New World has made. Pays d’Oc varietals were everywhere in the 1990s, and so we got hammered out of the market. Australia and Chile stepped in and took over, and now they’re making the same mistake we made then. So now we’re coming back – we have learned from what we did wrong before.
Our best markets are the francophile countries, those who like French culture and humour. Some nationalities simply don’t understand the third degree irony of the Arrogant Frog label, for example. Francophile markets include Poland, Australia, parts of North America, Brazil, Latin America and Mexico - Arrogant Frog is very good in these countries, and in Russia, in fact. Then there are neo-consumers, like many Chinese, who go more for the status of the wine. They may not know much about it now but they are starting to learn. Basically we split exports into strategic and emerging markets. There are around 20 strategic markets including the UK, the US, Japan and Australia, Belgium and Holland. There are three emerging markets: China is just starting, while we put a lot of emphasis on Brazil and Russia. India isn’t really a focus for us – it’s too complicated.
As for Africa, I regard it as the job of regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti and Barolo to open the door. Then, when Africa matures, we will get in there. That’s exactly what happened in China, and now may be the right time for us.
Château Saint Jacques d’Albas, Minervois
Since we bought Château Saint Jacques in 2001 we’ve undergone an extensive programme of replanting – 32 ha will be under vine by next year. When we bought the property, there were no exports and all the grapes were sold to the local cave co-operative. A decade later, we export 85%. Our main markets are the United States, Germany and Japan, all of which took a lot of time and money to nurture. We sell to about 15 countries altogether, and while we’re well established in the main markets, there are certainly other countries to exploit.
The US is a market that requires obligatory maintenance. It took me some time to find an importer but I finally hit on the French-run Gifted Grapes, based in New York City. We’re helped by the economic crisis that – as far as wine is concerned – saw the average per-bottle spend in Manhattan dropping from $15.00 to $40.00 to today’s $12.00 to $25.00. With those prices, the appearance of a good, drinkable Languedoc wine went down a treat. New York state is a big customer – they take 7% to 8% of our exports. The eastern seaboard is the best market, but we also have healthy sales in Colorado, and California is slowly building. Having a Frenchman representing us in the US is a great help. It’s the same for Japan. Sales there are looked after by Wines Overland in Paris, which specialises in Asian markets. When we first started we sent a couple of pallets to Japan, and now we do 12. Along with Japan, Germany is a very good market. There’s a movement from beer to wine – they are becoming more sophisticated.
Efficiency and ease of working with a country is important. We’ve dropped India in the last few months for that reason. I used to do seven or eight pallets a year, but it’s become more and more complicated. The importer expects you to pay promotion expenses, and the rupee has lost value against the euro. Japan and Germany are simpler, and they’re far better payers.
We do about six pallets a year to the UK, to independents. At our size, we can’t go into the supermarkets. They only take large volumes, and hit you hard on prices – they will offer to list your wine but only on condition you drop 20% in price. Of course, they do take smaller quantities for their websites – I’m thinking about selling to one major supermarket’s online operation at the moment.
I’d like to develop Belgium and Poland. They are great connoisseurs of food and wine, and they are francophiles. But they are very competitive, as is Switzerland, which I’m finding is not successful – it’s incredibly hard to break into. The Swiss can afford to buy Burgundy, which is only an hour from Geneva. As for Russia, that is a very difficult market indeed. There are so many extras you have to pay at the border, it’s simply not worth it.
I do think Languedoc is ripe for expansion of its export markets. Bordeaux has done the region a tremendous service. They increased the price of the 2009 and 2010 during an economic crisis – their timing was very bad. People have stopped buying expensive Bordeaux, and inexpensive Bordeaux has been tarred by the same brush. Top-quality Languedoc is great value in comparison.
Jan and Caryl Panman
Château Rives-Blanques, Limoux
We produce sparkling Blanquette de Limoux, single-varietal Chardonnay, Mauzac and Chenin Blanc, a Sauvignon Blanc and a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc-Mauzac blend. Of a total production of 100,000 bottles, we export around 85%. As foreigners speaking a variety of European languages, when we first started 14 years ago it was naturally easier to deal with European markets rather than the French, though we now sell about 20% of our wine locally, in restaurants and cellar door. We have the problems faced by any small appellation: our Chardonnay is brilliant but we don’t have Burgundy on the label, and at the £13.00 level our sparkling is far better value than Champagne at the equivalent level, but we don’t have Champagne on the label. So it’s important to explore all the possibilities – as a small vineyard we have to be more interesting. We’re not growing in size but in quality. The longer we are in the business the more we are terroir-driven and concerned with authenticity. You have to make better wines or you’ll drown in the lake of wine from the co-operatives.
Our prime export markets are Belgium, Holland, the UK and the US, as well as Japan. They tend to be adventurous in their choices, and they’re not afraid of the unknown. Belgium is a lovely country to work with. They are very educated in wine and they love their food. The US is very important for the same reason – especially in New York where they’re driven by good wines. Japan is a very nice market to work in because they are so interested in the wine.
The UK in general is very brand driven but we have an excellent importer, Cambridge Wine Merchants, who really know the Languedoc. As for the Republic of Ireland, I know the market well but we find it very difficult – it’s a struggle. They are very price-driven and it’s complicated by high taxes.
We’re always looking for new regions - we never say no to a new market because things can change. We’ve recently got Trinidad and Tobago – it’s small, we don’t need to send multiple pallets, but the world is big and there are many niche regions like that to go into. And we do care about where the wine goes. I’m not keen on working with countries where we’re not sure what happens to the wine when it arrives.
Are we going to look at China? Yes. Last year I went to Shanghai with my son Jan-Ailbe, who speaks Mandarin and is training to be the winemaker here. It was fascinating, and we made useful contacts, but it’s still too early for us. There’s definitely a niche market there but we’re not there yet. We’re very optimistic about Languedoc. It can still be a battle to get people to take the region seriously but I’m convinced the tide is turning for French wine, that it’s coming back into fashion, and people like Gerard Bertrand and Jean-Claude Mas have been brilliant in getting it better known. The most essential thing is that we believe in it ourselves.