Last Thursday I was kindly invited to address the Rencontres Nationales des Vignerons Indépendants de France in Epernay. I was asked to talk on the UK market and what the Vignerons Indépendants meant to the UK wine trade and the wine drinking public.
My post last week covered some of the elements of the difficult UK market, so this week I’m concentrating on the Vignerons Indépendants – both the organisation and the notion of individual independent vignerons.
As far as the organisation – Les Vignerons Indépendants – is concerned it is virtually unknown in the UK. Only a few trade buyers, wine journalists and some enthusiastic amateurs are aware of its existence, especially those who have been to the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants that are regularly held in Paris and other French cities.
Unfortunately in January the UK wine trade will have been confused by two tastings of individual French producers held in London on consecutive days. On the 15th January Le Salon Professionnel des Vignerons Indépendants de France organized by UBIFrance, which the following day there was a very similar tasting called French Wine Discoveries, which was organized by another company. The previous year both organisations had worked together. I have no idea and little interest in why they decided to go their own ways this year but it certainly created unnecessary confusion.
In the UK there is a much greater knowledge of the notion of an individual producer – of a producer who is neither a négociant or a coopérative. The image amongst enthusiastic wine lovers of the independent producer growing and making their own wine is often very positive. I suspect, however, for the general wine drinker the price remains all important – who makes it is immaterial providing the price is right.
In early March I met the commercial director of a cave coopérative in Saint-Chinian, who sells to Morrisons, a UK supermarket chain. When his Saint-Chinian is sold at full price £9.99, they sell about a 100 bottles a week. Put it on ‘special half-price offer’ and they clear 25,000-30,000 bottles a week. Presumably when ‘half-price’ it may well actually be selling at its true value.
If the Vignerons Independents want to raise their profile in the UK, here are two suggestions for their consideration: increase the frequency of their excellent Pique-nique chez le Vigneron Indépendant and hold a Salon des Vins des Vignerons indépendants in London or perhaps in another UK city such as Manchester or Edinburgh.
Pique-nique chez le Vigneron Indépendant is an excellent and very enjoyable idea. I have thoroughly enjoyed the three that I have been able to get to – two in 2012 and one in 2011. Unfortunately they are only held once a year. In 2011 it was in June, last year it was the end of May, while in 2013 they will be from 18th-20th May.
These are wonderfully convivial occasions and a real opportunity to meet both producers but also share time with other wine enthusiasts. It seems such a pity to just hold these pique-niques just once a year. Why not also hold some during that July and August when France has many foreign visitors?
The success of the REAL Wine Fair and RAW shows that amongst wine enthusiasts there is a demand to meet and discover authentic wines – wines that have been made ‘naturally’ and without artifice. Yes there are problems over ‘natural’ wines with its lack of a definition and criteria as well as some badly made examples. However, there is an underlying demand for the authentic – the artisanal – that the Vignerons Indépendants ought to be able to tap into.
Both RAW and REAL attract wine enthusiasts who are very switched onto social media and I’m sure that if there was a Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants held in the UK it would also generate a lot of attention on Twitter and Facebook etc.
While at the Rencontres nationales I was delighted to meet Agnieszka Kumor, a Polish wine journalist now living in Paris. Agnieszka is a much-valued contributor to our Les 5 du Vin blog. It was great to finally meet her and listen to her presentation of the Polish market.