Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wine Predictions in Fifty Years: China, Plastic and English Champagne

Berry Bros. & Rudd, Britain's oldest independent wine merchant, made several predictions about the state of the wine world in 2058 in its “Future of Wine Report.” Among its many predictions, Berry believes China could one day rival Bordeaux, while England could be a new champagne region in just 50 years.

In the world of volume wine, Berrys believes there are two specific areas set for significant change by 2058:

1. Countries renowned for “new world wine” will alter radically as the effects of climate change are felt.

2. The size of wine “brands” will lead to massive changes in the way wine is produced, packaged and marketed.

Leading the charge in volume wine, predicts Berrys, will be China. Already the world's sixth largest wine producer and number four in terms of area under vine, its not too far-fetched to believe that China could soon be the world’s leading producer of volume wine. Berry believes China will excel in producing Cabernets and Chardonnays, in particular.

"China has the vineyards, but not the technical expertise," agrees Alun Griffiths MW, "however, if good people from wine producing countries think there is opportunity to make wine in China, they will go there and invest."

Berrys also believes that if global warming persists, countries that are currently small scale producers, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland and Canada,

BLEAK FUTURE FOR AUSTRALIA. In recent years, Australia has suffered from severe droughts that have resulted in vineyard irrigation being temporarily banned. If this trend continues, says Berry, supplies of inexpensive Australian wine may soon be a thing of the past.

By 2058, Berrys predicts Australia will be too hot and arid to support large areas of vine. It will no longer be renowned for volume wine and will become, instead, a niche producer, concentrating on hand-crafted, terroir-driven, fine wine.

WINE BECOMES (EVEN MORE) COMMERCIALIZED. Berry experts believe big brand, blended wines with grapes from around the world could soon replace region-specific varietals.

"By 2058, big brand wine could be grape or blend specific, rather than from a particular country. Grapes will be gathered from all over the world and blended to suit consumers' tastes."

They also believe spirits companies and supermarkets will own most of the world’s wine brands by 2058.

GLASS BOTTLES NO LONGER. In 50 years' time, Berry believes wine is unlikely to be sold in glass bottles as retailers and importers try to cut costs, waste, and reduce the environmental impact of wine being shipped around the globe. Instead, wine will be packaged in plastic or reinforced cardboard containers.

CHINA AND ENGLAND, UNRIVALED WINE REGIONS? While Berry thinks China is set to become a leading producer of volume wine, they also think China has all the essential ingredients to rival the best of Bordeaux.

“It is entirely conceivable that, in such a vast country, there will be pockets of land with a terroir and micro-climate well suited to the production of top quality wines," said Jasper Morris MW.

Thanks in part to warmer temperatures (2007 was the second warmest year in the UK in 356 years), more and more English land is becoming suitable for wine production. Berrys believes the amount of English farmland devoted to wine production may rival that of France by 2058.

French Champagne producers such as Louis Roederer have been looking at the chalky soil of the South Downs with interest, believing it offers them a great opportunity to produce sparkling wines similar to Champagne itself.

Wine Growth Slowing

How is wine performing during the weak economic climate? Are consumers still trading up? According to Nielsen’s food, drug and liquor scan data, wine and even high-end wine is still growing but at a much slower rate. To get an idea of the difference, we took a look at Nielsen data in the period to April 5, 2008 and April 7, 2007.

OVERALL TABLE WINE. Table wine continued to post growth in the four weeks to April 5 but at a slower rate than the 52 week period to April 5. Table wine dollar sales grew 4.7% in the four weeks, but were up 5.4% for the year.

In terms of volume, the four week period saw growth of 1.5% while volume jumped 2.2% in the 52 weeks. It takes longer for trends to show up in 52-week data, while four-week numbers tend to reflect current trends. Case in point? Growth of wine in the U.S. is stalling and isn’t showing signs of turning around (yet).

Let’s take a look at the same period last year. In the four weeks to April 7, 2007, dollar sales jumped 11.1%. In the 52 weeks to April 7, 2007, dollar sales grew 6.9%. Volume increased a whopping 7% for the month and 2.9% for the year to April 2007. Volume growth of table wine in 2007 was almost five times more than in 2008.

TRADING UP. High-end wines reached a new record of growth in 2007. Since then, the rate of growth has slowed. It turns out that consumers are still trading up, just not as much as they were last year.

Higher-priced wines continued to post growth in April 2008, but at a much slower rate than in April 2007. In the four weeks to April 2008, dollar sales and volume of wines priced $15 and above rose 8.1%. Wines priced $12-14.99 saw sales climb 7.8% and volume rise 5.5%. Meanwhile, wines in the $9-11.99 range increased 7.5% in dollar sales and 5.3% in volume.

Dollar sales of wines prices $6-8.99 grew 1.9%, followed by $3-5.99 (3.7%) and $0-2.99 (1.2%). Volume of wines prices $6-8.99 grew 0.6%, followed by $3-5.99 (1.5%) and $0-2.99 (-0.6%).

The difference between 2008 and 2007 is vast. In the four weeks to April 2007, the $15 and up category grew 26.9% in value and 26.3% in volume. Dollar sales of wines prices $12-14.99 grew 20.3%, while volume jumped 20.1%. Wines in the $9-11.99 range rose 15.1% in value and 14.4% in volume.

All of the lower priced wines grew faster in 2007 as well, aside from the $0-2.99 price segment. Dollar sales of the $6-8.99 category rose 8%, followed by $3-5.99 (7.8%) and $0-2.99 (0.3%). Volume of wines priced $6-8.99 grew 9.2%, followed by $3-5.99 (7.3%) and $0-2.99 (0.2%).

Grape vines take root in modern China

Despite a 4,600-year wine history, booming nation is just discovering good vino

BEIJING - The history of Chinese grape wine dates back more than 4,600 years. But if you are in the country during this Olympic year, I suggest you drink beer.

Back last week from a three-week sojourn through China, I discovered there are only a couple of wines approaching entry-level international standards.

There is no question China will eventually produce some world-class winners. The country has the climate, the soil and the will-power to rival the world's top wine-producing regions. And international expertise is arriving with state-of-the equipment.

But the wine industry has not kept up with the quality strides made in other industries, from manufacturers of high-tech equipment to leather goods to clothing.

One reason China is behind most of the world's best wine-producing regions in quality is that many of its 1.3 billion people haven't been able to afford such a luxury drink. Just getting enough food to stay alive during famines can be a huge endeavour. It's a rather sad situation given the country's long history of winemaking -- in 1995, Chinese and American archeologists discovered remnants of alcoholic beverages, including grape, mead and several mixed beverages, that dated back some 4,600 years.

Another handicap was that Chinese grapes, for centuries, were of inferior quality compared to those cultivated around the Mediterranean and later in Europe. Consequently, wine didn't enjoy the same popularity in China as in other parts of the world. Then, during the Han Dynasty, following a gentleman by the name of Zhang Qian's exploration of the country's western region in the second century BC, high-quality grapes were introduced.

Fast forward to 1989, just shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre, I visited Beijing and befriended a local university student who was keen on wine. I was delighted one night when he rushed from a restaurant (with my cash) and returned with a pretty decent bottle of French-influenced Riesling.

French wine was the first foreign wine to be imported into China and in 1980, at the beginning of Chinese economic reform, Remy Martin arrived to set up some joint ventures.

I licked my lips recently at the thought of tasting 20 years of viticulture progress. Consider the progress the B.C. wine industry has made in that time.

But sadly, I was disappointed. For the most part, the same few brands are sold throughout the country. Only in top international hotels in such cities as Beijing and Shanghai could one find French, Australian and perhaps some Californian wine.

But who wants to drink wine so readily found at home? It was in ancient, cobble-streeted Lijiang, in the province of Yunnan and near the Burma border, that I sat down one night to sample wines found in most restaurants in the region. Some notes:

Dynasty Red Wine, $4. A quite quaffable wine made with French help. Dry, light and well-balanced, but the fruit was more faded-savoury than forward.

Yunnan Red Wine, $4. A local wine, drinkable if one has been stranded in the local mountains for about a year.
Great Wall Red Wine, $3.75. Found everywhere and selling to westerners on its novelty name. The wine tasted oxidized. But it's a "must-try" to say you have sampled Chinese wine.

Tibetan Dry Naked Barley Red Wine, $4.50. Caramel, dried figs and plums on a wine that deserved a second sip.

Lijiang Red, $3. Some licorice notes in this local wine what tasted like a cross between sherry and firewater.
Beer is the chosen beverage of most males. Some 90 per cent of the wine consumed domestically in China last year however was red. Drinking it has become a status symbol.

Some 80 per cent of vineyards produce red wine. It's the country's women who are driving a slowly growing white-wine market.

The Chinese have undoubtedly noted wine is a key export in some countries and within a decade I believe we will be sipping good Chinese wine.

That's just as well. The standard of living there is rising quickly and a more affluent population will no doubt seek a share of our favourite wines.

Nick Lees

Burgundy wine sales hit by rising euro

Sales of Burgundy wines have started to decline over the past few weeks with vintners blaming the rise in the euro against the dollar and the pound.

But winemakers in one of France's best-known wine regions are not feeling too anxious after two years of steep price rises on the back of demand that still far outstrips production.

"I believe that in the first quarter of this year we have had a decline of 4-5 percent in volume and a similar rise in prices," Frederic Dupray, head of economic studies for the Burgundy wine association, told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We had been expecting a decline in volume this year after two years of growth and in any case stocks are very low in Burgundy, so we are not in tears," he added.

Wine house Albert Bichot sounded a warning bell.

"After two years of strong growth in sales...Burgundy is experiencing the start of a slow down," it said in a note to clients. "The strength of the euro, the rise in prices for the 2007 harvest and a more glum sentiment at our clients are the cause of this," it said.

The single European currency used by France, Germany, Spain, Italy and several other EU countries has gained 16 percent against the U.S. dollar over the past 12 months.

Dupray said that sales to the United States were hit by the rise in the euro, while sales to the United Kingdom were hit by a decline in the pound as well as an economic situation in Britain, which he described as "not brilliant".

"In Britain there is less demand for the high-end Burgundy wines and more for the middle range," he said.

But demand from Russia and Asia is booming and many vintners from Burgundy and other French wine regions will be present at the Vinexpo trade fair in Hong Kong, from Tuesday until May 29.

"There is a lot of demand still but what we want in Burgundy is to get a hold on volumes and improve the price level," Dupray said.

Albert Bichot ( trades in Chablis, Cote De Beaune, Cote de Nuits, general Burgundy wines as well as the Beaujolais, Maconnais, Cotes du Rhone and Languedoc wines farther away from the central Burgundy area, roughly between Dijon and Beaune in central France.

Created in 1831 by Bernard Bichot, the family firm is now headed by Alberic Bichot.

It owns, among others, Domaine Long-Depaquit in Chablis and the Domaine du Clos Frantine in Vosne Romanee, a village that yields some of the most expensive Burgundy wines.

Burgundy wines are single grape wines, mainly Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay or Aligote for the whites, and not blends such as Bordeaux.

The tastes of wines can differ widely from one mini-climate to the next in the myriad of villages and vineyards that stretch across Burgundy.

Marcel Michelson

Wine held underwater to test cellar methods

French winegrowers have submerged 276 bottles of local drink deep in an artificial lake and will keep them there for decades to see how they differ from bottles stored above ground for the same period.

Every 20 years, 24 of the submerged wine bottles will brought to the surface to test how the wine has changed.

A dozen frogmen placed the bottles of Arbois wine, kept in wire crates, 60 metres below the surface among the ruins of a sunken 12th century abbey in Vouglans, in the Jura region of eastern France.

Built by monks of the order of Saint Bruno, the Chartreuse de Vaucluse was submerged in 1968, when France's electricity operator, EDF, created a huge dam and France's third largest lake.

Nestling within its walls, the wine will be kept at 4 degrees Celsius, with pressure at seven bars and between 4 to 8 mg of oxygen per litre.
Every 20 years, a crate of 24 bottles will brought to the surface to test how the wine has changed, in parallel with the normally conserved bottles, according to domain Henri Maire, which organised the operation.

Besides the wine, 12 bottles containing messages from "different personalities from the arts, media, the world of wine and gastronomy" were also laid to rest at the bottom as a testament to "future generations about our art of living today," said Henri Maire.

The Arbois appellation (which draws its name from the town of Arbois) is the heart of the Jura region. Located along the eastern border of France, it runs parallel to Burgundy and is not far from Switzerland.

Arbois whites are produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc and its yellow wine from the obscure Savagnin variety. The reds contain Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard grapes.

The Henri Maire domain last year sent 20,000 bottles around the world as an experiment, while crates of its yellow wine are currently stored in the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, far inside the Arctic circle, in minus 40 degree temperatures.

Henri Maire himself started the craze for such tests in 1955 by walling in bottles of vin jaune in the bowels of the Tour d'Argent, one of Paris' most famous restaurants with a sumptuous wine cellar.

The bottles are due to be removed in 2055.

Henry Samuel