Larry Walker

In the wake of the rejection of a proposal to build a winery in the Languedoc region of France earlier this year, the Robert Mondavi Company has severed its French connection.

A. spokesman said that Mondavi was selling its Vichon Mediterranean label, a line of premium varietal wines imported from the Languedoc, to Sieur d’Arques, a cooperative wine producer based in Limoux, France. Sieur d’Arques has been the primary wine supplier for the brand.

Vichon Mediterranean wines–including varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah–were first introduced in 1997 and have grown to become one of the most successful labels from the Languedoc region. Last year, Vichon Mediterranean was the fifth largest French wine brand in dollar volume in the U.S. market with sales of more than 200,000 cases worldwide.

(Vichon was originally a California winery, produced at a hillside winery in the Napa Valley. In recent years, Mondavi has produced its La Famiglia family of wines there. Mondavi has also announced that the original Vichon production facility will be closed and put on the market for $20 million. La Famiglia will be made at the Robert Mondavi Oakville winery and at Mondavi’s Central Coast facility.)

Sieur d’Arques, founded in 1946, is best known for production of Blanquette de Limoux, a methode champenoise sparkling wine dating back to 1530, and for its highly-regarded AOC Chardonnays referred to as Toques et Clochers. With 600 winegrower members, the cooperative produces 500,000 cases annually of each wine. Since the 1980s, Sieur d’Arques has been a pioneer in researching and identifying the soils and micro-climates of the Languedoc region. Last year, the cooperative formed a partnership with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, S. A., a partner with Mondavi in Opus One, to produce an ultra-premium red wine from Limoux.

Shaw Ross International was named the exclusive importer of Vichon Mediterranean in the U.S. Robert Mondavi’s international division will be responsible for sales and distribution of the wine outside of the U.S. market.

French Plan a Counter-Attack

In the United States we get our knickers twisted over a probably bogus energy “crisis.” In France, they know a real crisis when they see one. The French government has appointed Jacques Berthomeau to deal with a crisis in the French wine industry. In a bid to win back market share lost to so-called New World producers, the government has gone into a full crisis mode.

At the beginning of August, Berthomeau outlined a plan to win back the world’s wine drinkers.

“The French wine industry, which has lived off its prestige, must come down from its pedestal and work like others,” he told Reuters news service in Paris. “We have to be more professional. Marketing is a tool. We sold mineral water through branding. Why not wine?”

He said that New World producers have stolen market share from the French with a no-fuss approach built around strong brands, simple labels and helpful hints– such as “drink chilled with chicken”–rather than the obscure names of tiny vineyards.

Berthomeau suggests breaking down the large class of mid-range “Vin de pays” wines into smaller and more marketable brands recognized and protected by the European Union.

“We should market these products too, invest in them to seduce the new type of consumers who are not specialists, who need to be guided and for whom a brand is reassuring,” he said.

He pointed out that he was not suggesting anyone change the way they make the wine, but rather how it is marketed.

“My idea is to take the same rigorous approach to selling wines that cost 20 francs as to those that cost 200 francs,” he said.

In just 20 years, New World producers–mostly Southern Hemisphere countries that were not traditional wine exporters–have expanded from an almost infinitesimal share of the world wine trade to around 20%.

French wine sales in Britain, a major buyer that imports almost all of its wine, fell from 33% of the market in 1998 to 26% last year, while New World wines there went from 15% of the market in 1995 to 37% last year.

Chile Is Turning Green

One of those New World producers giving France a hard time (see above) is Chile. Now, in another move to be more user-friendly for an increasingly environmentally aware world, major wineries in central Chile are investing up to US$12 million each in waste treatment plants and methods to reuse by-products. Their aim is to meet or beat rising environmental standards, both at home and in ever more demanding foreign markets where strict environmental standards are the norm.

Santa Emiliana, Concha y Toro, Cousino Macul, Undurraga, Morande, Echeverria, Domaine Oriental and Torreon de Paredes are among the wineries participating in the effort, according to

So far, Vina Santa Emiliana is the only winery to meet ISO 14.001 standards, the European Community’s environmental yardstick. The winery began production of “green” wine February 6 in the Maipo, Rapel and Casablanca valleys. Three more wineries are expected to be similarly certified by the end of this year.

Government funds are helping to spur the investment, with state agencies financing as much as 70% of the development costs.

Nearly 20 wineries have presented the National Environmental Commission (Conama) environmental impact declarations stating their aim to environmentally upgrade their facilities. Conama hopes that soon all the country’s wine export producers convert their operations to meet international environmental standards.

Codorniu Adds to Napa Acreage

Codorniu, the premium Catalan wine and cava producer, has purchased 180 acres of land in the Foss Valley of Napa County for about $6 million. About one-third of the acreage is already planted in Cabernet Sauvignon. Plans are to plant the rest of the acreage with more Cabernet, Merlot, Tempranillo, Grenache and Cabernet franc.

Codorniu, owned by the Raventos Family, owns the Artesa Winery in the Carneros region of Napa and a total of over 1,200 acres of land in Napa Carneros, the Sonoma Coast and Alexander Valley.

A spokesman for Codorniu said the objective is increasing and strengthening its Artesa still wine production. Still wines now account for almost one-third of Codorniu Group’s total sales.

The Pisco Wars

For years, Chile and Peru have hotly debated the origin of Pisco, a white grape brandy produced in the Andes region of South America. Chile claims the drink originated there, Peru claims it comes from Peru, pointing to the port of Pisco as proof. Chile has responded that, early on, Pisco was shipped from that port because it was the nearest port to the production center for Pisco in northern Chile.

Now, in a move that will certainly upset Chile, Peru’s government has announced plans to apply for an international patent on the drink. Like Peruvians, Chileans have been enjoying Pisco since the colonial period, and both countries patented Pisco within their own borders in 1989.

Defending the decision, Teresa Mere, president of Peru’s Intellectual Property Protection Institute, said that Peru has been historically recognized as the birthplace of the traditional drink.

Insisting that Peru’s production is far more advanced than that of its southern neighbor, Mere also claims that Chile has not been recognized abroad as Pisco’s birthplace.

The drink is perhaps best known in the U.S. as the base for Pisco Sours, a mixed drink containing, among other things, raw egg whites, said to have originated in the port of San Francisco more than 100 years ago.

TWG Acquires Alderbrook

In June, Terlato Wine Group (TWG] acquired a majority interest in Alderbrook Vineyards and Winery of Healdsburg, Calif.

In February, Paterno Imports, the Terlato family’s premium wine marketing company, entered into an exclusive, worldwide sales and marketing agreement with Alderbrook. The plan includes a program to add new tanks, upgrade fermentation equipment, obtain new barrels, construct a new barrel room and secure new vineyard sources. In the newly-formed partnership, TWG will provide a capital infusion to fund these initiatives, estimated at more than $5 million.

Alderbrook is the sixth winemaking project TWG has added to its portfolio since 1995. Other wineries and joint ventures include Rutherford Hill, Chimney Rack Winery, Glass Mountain, Michel Laroche at Rutherford Hill Chardonnay and a new joint venture in Australia.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group