Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The French Need a Better Marketing Company

When it comes to wine, I am a devout Francophile. In matters of marketing I find them excruciatingly clueless, squandering their long established reputation to chase business. The folks outside of Europe making wine must love them.
Bordeaux and Burgundy still attract serious consumers and offer some of the most collectible wines available. Both regions have been plagued by suspect producers riding the coattails of more earnest neighbors; the resulting confusion, perhaps alienation, for disappointed customers has damaged reputations.
Bordeaux has moved to cull some of the producers that produce Two-Euro Pierre believing that will alleviate the loss of prestige. That level of plonk does not make it to the U.S. Ridding the market of sub-par wine is never a bad idea but the CIVB (Bordeaux's Wine Council) believes that naming various tiers 'Fun', 'Exploration' and 'Art' will somehow further improve their status. I don't get it.
The inherent 'problem' for the region remains the climate and resulting style of wines when considered among the hugely extracted, super-ripe styles available from various New World sources. I never felt ripped off by Bordeaux under $10, I don't buy any. I no longer buy Bordeaux at all because the prices for wines that used to be affordable have risen to astronomical prices and I almost never find anything under $25 that's worth drinking. Lower priced options lack the concentrated fruit people expect from those wines and will disappoint most drinkers. If the move is to solidify the European market then the goofy names will likely be a liability; if the goal is to right the ship in the U.S. then the wines need more trickery and magic in the cellar to make them plusher and more gulpable. I am not advocating this necessarily, but name and label alterations will not change customers reactions, if the products even get to them. More and more buyers have simply forsaken Bordeaux selections across the board due to lackluster sales.
Burgundy has also fallen into step with some deranged Pied Piper. They are planning on two new appellations, 'Coteaux Bourguignons' and 'Bourgogne Cote d'Or.' The latter allows low cost Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to be labeled something other than just Bourgogne. I'm confused about this, but can sort of see the point. My fear is that bottles previously bottled as Bourgogne Cotes de Nuits or Cotes de Beaune will now lose their individual identities and be bottled as one under the new moniker. This may be misplaced concern, but for me, the appeal of Burgundy is its striking specificity, which could be diluted under this approach.
The former shows the French at their rudderless best. 'Coteaux Bourguignons' can be used on lower priced Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay from Burgundy and Beaujolais. Basically, it's a renaming of an appellation rarely, if ever, seen in the U.S. - Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire (now there's a ironic name). People already complain they don't understand the French system, I know, let's add more names and be sure to include at least two grapes of the same color from different regions to further befuddle the potential consumer.
The French led the charge by creating the appellation system. It works well, for the most part. They should be careful about chasing current trends, they may find the market comes back to where they used to be only to find them out to lunch. Just ask all those growers in California who planted Merlot in the late 90s...

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