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Why the world is shunning French wine for Australian labels

4 min

The world's long-time supreme winemaker, France has slipped from first place to third among wine exporters in the past four years, leaving Italy and Spain in the lead. At the same time, wines from the New World are going from strength to strength. The major difference - marketing. Our Observer, a Frenchman studying the business of wine in Australia, explains.

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Image: "basco5" on Flickr.

The world's long-time supreme winemaker, France has slipped from first place to third among wine exporters in the past four years, leaving Italy and Spain in the lead. At the same time, wines from the New World are going from strength to strength. The major difference - marketing. Our Observer, a Frenchman studying the business of wine in Australia, explains.

Etiquette ‘à la française’ vs Down Under

French wines

Australian wines

"The most obvious difference is the way the New World labels its products"

Benoît Pétry, 24, from Nice, is studying the wine business at Adelaide University, Australia.

While French wines are finding themselves increasingly out of favour with the world, the number of wine-producing countries is increasing (it is expected that world wine production will increase by 4% between 2008-2012). Who would have thought that while wine production in India, China and Argentina is increasing, in France it's declining? These countries are increasing their share in the most important wine markets (e.g., the UK and the US). The New World is gaining shares through big wine companies (like Constellation and Foster's). These companies are successful because they're big enough to be able to invest heavily in marketing, and they provide the distribution sector with a constant supply of wine that sustains a relatively constant taste and quality.

Marketing is the New World's best weapon in challenging the Old World. French producers are not the best when it comes to marketing strategies, and they keep on selling wine like they always have. The most obvious difference is the way the New World labels its products: simple, easy to read and consumer friendly; you do not have to be an expert to know how to read the label. The New World labelling system is not restricted by law like it is in France.

French wine experts place more emphasis on the region where the wine was produced than on the type of grape, as if the terroir were the most important factor when it comes to the taste of wine. Of course, nobody can deny that the terroir is an important factor, but it is the grape variety that really makes the taste of the wine. If you add more Merlot or Cabernet franc to Cabernet Sauvignon (a common mix) and plant it in exactly the same vineyard as a differently proportioned blend, the wine will have a very different taste. The New World, however, has lessened the importance of the terroir notion (climate, soil type, length of exposure to sunlight) and increased the importance of grape variety.

While you won't often find the grape variety on a French bottle (see pic), Australian wineries always display the grape type and not necessarily the region. Consumers love that! First, it's easier to understand; what is in the bottle is no longer a mystery. It is the French government based AOC system, or "controlled  term of origin" which regulates how wineries present their product. Each AOC is a region in France which is certified for a certain production (for example, Côte du Rhône, Champagne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

Xavier de Eizaguirre, president of the international wine exposition Vinexpo, argued that with about 500 AOCs in total, the system is perceived as too complicated. In the AOC region of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe for example, growers are allowed to use 12 different types of grape. Only an absolute expert would be able to determine a wine from knowing its AOC. 

Wine is indeed a complex product, characterized by different attributes such as region, variety of grape, winemaker, winery and wine style. And that's exactly why a bottle of wine should help the consumer - connoisseur or not - to get all the basic information related to the wine in the bottle in order to help them to buy a bottle of wine that they are more likely to enjoy, and therefore buy more of."

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