Bordeaux is on a mission to prove there is far more to the region than expensive red wines for rich retirees to sip at country clubs.
A host of print, digital and outdoor ads from the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux will flood the UK next month, hammering home the headline: The More You Look, The More You Discover.
François Jumeau, marketing director at the CIVB, says: “We want to move away from the clichés people have in mind about Bordeaux: that it is expensive, for special occasions, red wines only and for older people.
“We have been particularly successful at promoting Bordeaux dry white. Bordeaux isn’t always expensive – we have great wines from £5 to £20. It is working well with a younger generation. We have put on great Bordeaux events in the UK that are not formal occasions.”
The marketing push comes as Bordeaux appears to be struggling in the UK. Britain is still the second biggest export market by value, but sales declined 43% on the previous year (CIVB/French customs, year to July 2014), while volumes were down 5% to 228,000hl. But this decline can be largely attributed to a vast drop in en primeur shipments.
In the past year the 2012 vintage – a short and not particularly exciting harvest – came on to the market and en primeur orders were way down on 2011.
In the retail trade sales of everyday-drinking Bordeaux wines are surging, up 13% in volume (IRI, year to June 30). This includes 10.3% growth in supermarket sales and a 41% increase in sales through the convenience channel.
And it is this affordable category that the CIVB is keen to promote.
Jumeau says: “The classified growths are only 3% of the Bordeaux offer, and we want to develop the segment where Bordeaux is really competitive. Under £10 you can find a number of competitors but none have the credibility of Bordeaux, so we can take on the New World.
“The first area we can develop is dry whites. People don’t realise Sauvignon Blanc comes from Bordeaux. They are surprised by how fresh and crisp our whites are. We have been successful at showing our whites to the UK trade. The results have been really good, but we are just scratching the surface.”
The UK is the leading export market for Bordeaux whites, with volume up 5% to 41,000hl (CIVB). In the off-trade white Bordeaux sales are up 41% and now account for more than a quarter of Bordeaux sales (IRI). But Marc Medeville, vice- president of the Syndicat Viticole des Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur, which accounts for 55% of the region’s wine, says white Bordeaux is “under-represented in all channels in the UK”.
His team has launched a UK campaign to raise awareness of the region’s whites, along with its more affordable offerings.
He says: “It is important to change the trade’s old perception and introduce them to the new style of wines offering great quality and value. These can hold their own with other fresh, fruity whites at a similar price point from different regions.
“The main challenge is to escape the old image of traditional wines for special occasions only and replace it with a younger, more relevant and food-friendly image. Bordeaux blanc has been seen as not offering as much
value for money, but this is no longer the case and the campaign aims to demonstrate this to trade and press through its educational tastings.
“There is good value for money to be found in the lower echelons of Bordeaux wines. We aim to make Bordeaux blancs relevant to a younger audience by demonstrating that not only do they offer great quality and value for money, but they are everyday wines for enjoying with food.”
Charles Sichel, export director at Maison Sichel, one of the region’s biggest suppliers, says white Bordeaux “is not an easy sell” and it has to overcome an image problem before it will be successful in the UK.
He welcomes adding grape varieties to labels and feels the perception is slowly being changed, while quality is improving. “For the past few years we’ve been picking Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon at the right time,” he says. “It guarantees wines are lovely, fresh and fruity and a million miles away from the old style of white Bordeaux.”
Maison Sichel is also seeing strong growth in sales of its core wines – excluding crus classés – which it says are up 9.5% so far in 2014 compared to the previous year. Sichel says: “This is from €5 a bottle ex-cellar, so rrp £11.99, to €25 a bottle.
“Over the last couple of years I have noticed that when the going gets tough, the market tends to go back to what it knows best and where it feels more comfortable.
“Also Bordeaux has come on in leaps and bounds in terms of value for money. Wines from 2009, 2010 and 2011, for €4–€12 ex-cellar, are delicious and great value for money, with fantastic variety. That has been noticed by the market and people have come back to it.”
But he warns that Bordeaux should not be trying to compete at entry level and should focus on more premium tiers.
“House clarets under £5 are few and far between,” he says. “The region produces a massive amount of wine, 800 million bottles a year, and if people produce entry-level wine then people will buy it. But we don’t have the climate to justify producing it.
“There is less produced now and hopefully the downward trend will continue. If you go up €1 or €2 [ex- cellar] you get a much better wine.”