The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2010

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Page 70 of 112

FRANCE A Common Bond I THE MEDITERRANEAN VINTNERS ALLIANCE UNITES PRODUCERS WITH SIMILAR GOALS story and photos by Lana Bortolot f you’ve been to Provence, two things come to mind: Peter Mayle’s best-selling books chronicling his idyllic life there, and the region’s other cheerful ambassador, rosé wine. Wine pros need no introduction to rosé’s charms. No longer a second-class citizen to red, it’s made steady inroads in the retail and consumer market. Research from the International Wine & Spirit Record projects a ten-percent increase in consumption by 2012—a jump from 565 million to 620 million bottles. It’s been a long time coming, says Denis Roume, Export Director of Vignerons Ardéchois, a co-op northwest of Avignon. “Rosé consump- tion has increased in France in the last five years, as it has in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. In Europe, we’ve noticed young people drink rosé with deconstructed meals like pizza. It’s not a complicated wine, and it’s good for that purpose.” Rose’s greatest accom- The charm of french rosé: the Côtes du Vivarais réserve from Vignerons Ardéchois. plishment? Overcoming the bulk mindset. And its regional cousin, Côtes du Rhône, is doing the same. And that’s but one reason the Mediterranean Vintners Alliance was formed in 2008. Consisting of four cooperatives in southern France, the alliance aims to promote the quality and innovation of co-op wines by controlling vinification and pricing, and responding to shifting consumer tastes. “Our approach has nothing to do with scale; we give the same attention to large production as small production,” says Robert Oustric, Export Director at Marrenon, a member producer located in the Lubéron and Ventoux appellations. “It’s not a shame anymore to buy value wine.” The alliance leverages the tourism awareness of Provence and the brand of Rhône towns such as Châteauneuf-du- Pape, helped by consumers’ cost-consciousness during the recession, which has helped shift favor to value wines. The co-ops are charged with not only educating the public 70 / the tasting panel / september 2010 about quality, but are also accountable to the thousands of grape growers who depend on them for their livelihood. It’s a hugely different business model from estate production, and marketing decisions of the co-ops affect the growers. Says Pierre Cohen, Director of Cellier des Princes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, “We are involved in the vineyard and want to continue the tradition of the family grower, but want to be progressive and meet the requirements of consumers.” He adds, “We know if we are to compete on the international market, we have to make a varietal wine” Business in co-op world is about studying trends and seeing what makes sense for everyone involved. For example, while there’s a push in some markets for organic wines, the alliance hesitates to tell growers to produce organically. Such a mandate means more money, labor and a lengthy and costly certification process. And in the end, there’s no guarantee of monetizing the organic invest- ment, especially if there’s no control over issues such as how the wines are displayed (are they “French” or are they “organic”?). These are but some of the decisions-by-committee in the co-op wine world. These initiatives are helped by a young generation of enologists who understand the business of winemaking, graduating from traditional wine programs than now include a holistic view of wine and wine marketing. Young enologist Thierry Caymaris was attracted to Cave de Cairanne because it combined estate and technology. There, he’s remaking Côtes du Rhône for modern drinkers, working with a wide variety of ter- roirs. “The philosophy is domaine-based,” he explains. “You start with the land and go to the bottle. It’s like being a painter with 2,600 different colors.” Its satellite proximity to Châteauneuf-du-Pape (one of the labels is from the town) helps elevate the status of the easy-drinking red, and tight controls on yields and varieties have done the rest of the job. Now, more often, the talk turns to quality and substance: The co-ops emphasize terroir and hand-harvesting. And some, such Jean-Louis Piton, President of Marrenon, have shifted from making wine from whatever grapes came in, to actively advising winemakers on what kind of wines to make for the market.

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