Could wine tourism save the French wine industry?
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
The French wine industry is under increasing pressure, domestically and overseas, but it still has options, so how will it adapt to the changing landscape?
Wine and spirits is the second largest French export after aerospace technology. Although France arguably produces the most well-known wines, the business side of things, like any enterprise, is subject to its market. As most business owners will tell you, the market depends on the marketing, and France has some of the strictest laws when it comes to marketing alcohol.
Under the 1991 Evin Law, no alcohol advertising is allowed on television, and the law bans alcohol companies from sponsoring cultural or sporting events. The law has been widely criticised for its objective being the protection of children, with several studies coming to the conclusion that 'The 2015 version of the French Évin law does not appear to protect young people effectively from exposure to alcohol advertising in France'. An amendment, proposed in 2015 by Emmanuel Macron aimed to make a distinction between publicity and advertisement with the aim of helping to promote wine production that is associated with a region in France, but the proposed bill was censured. Macron has also recently come out in favour of making further changes to the law that will deregulate the advertisement of wine tourism in France, but without changing “either the philosophy or the objective” of the law. The reasons behind these changes are predominantly economic and are aimed at assisting regional wine producers in France.
French wine producers and exporters have been faced with several other key challenges recently, including the rising competition. With rapidly developing New World production, the competition is getting stronger, and many traditionally-minded French producers are struggling to adapt to modern customer profiles and tastes.
The effects of climate change too, are undeniable, when you look at recent changes to harvest periods, and unpredictable weather. In 2017 French wine production was down around 20% due to various climatic phenomena, having a significant effect on its export capacities for the next decade.
Two of France's biggest wine importers are China and the UK. In 2018 figures also showed a 25% drop in French wine shipments to China, and the UK's currency is weakening - by around 20% since before the referendum, making importing French wine much more expensive. Jason Yapp, an indepeneant wine merchant in the UK believes that French wine is going to become up to 25 per cent more expensive in the next 12-18 months.
“I think it’s a disaster. Only two producers we deal with have made concessions on price as a result of the currency devaluation.”
So, a great solution to all these challenges seems to be to diversify. Wine tourism helps to compensate for fluctuations in wine production and sales, is not subject to alcohol advertising laws, and helps to redistribute revenue and jobs to regions of the country which usually see more modest revenues, but enjoy an attractive climate and scenery. Recently enacted economic reforms relating to the French labor market and the reduction of bureaucratic red tape were made in an effort to lower the costs for businesses and make them more competitive on the global market.
Initiatives such as ruedesvignerons.com are designed to help wine makers approach the international market, by providing them with the platform and network they need to showcase their wines and offers.
Of course, budding oenotourism hosts will need to invest, in their land and buildings, but also in their people, to develop the language and customer services skills of their team. Most wine tourists are from the US and northern Europe, so speaking English is a must (a little word joke for wine makers).
Wine making is a beautiful and ancient skill.
The world deserves to learn more about it!