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South of France wine brand gets green light

By Chris Mercer , 20-Jul-2006

The 'South of France' wine brand, covering thousands of producers in France's biggest wine region, is set to hit supermarkets next year as winemakers look to regroup against the New World onslaught.

It has taken several months of bureaucratic wrangling, long by even French standards, but a promotion campaign for 'South of France' wines has now begun.

The brand, also known as 'Sud de France' at home, brings together both Appellation Controlée (AOC) and vins de pays producers across the Languedoc region for the first time; showing how some winemakers are taking a more proactive approach to the crisis affecting their industry.

 

The first wine bottles bearing the blue South of France banner are set to appear in France's big supermarket chains by next year, according to Thierry Mellenotte, who works for a new cross-industry association called Inter Sud de France.

 

"It is about one message and one region with the same values," said Mellenotte, adding that uniting wine producers in the region meant "we can avoid having two people waiting for the same ball".

 

There has been a concerted move towards greater industry co-operation in Languedoc recently. An interprofessional wine committee for the region will be formed at the start of 2008, while there are also plans for a united AOC Languedoc wine area.

 

The region, with its many small wineries and heavy reliance on wine for income, has been one of the areas worst hit by France's wine market woes.

 

Tumbling prices and poor sales have led to mass protests and a flurry of attacks on foreign wine stores by militant vintner group CRAV over the last year.

 

The South of France brand is a way of asserting the region's wine credentials on consumers. Yet, there are concerns the idea may be simply too big.

 

Thomas Blagden, who works for wine merchant Blagden Wines in southern France, said it was good to see French winemakers more focused on marketing, but that the new brand may hide several AOC areas that have a growing a reputation in the region.

 

"It's hard to say if it will work because we have not seen the impact yet. It may help consumers to discover the region, but I think the brand is too generic. It places too many AOC wines under one banner and may not help them," he told BeverageDaily.com.

 

There were fears too that the brand may be watered down, after the regional government announced it wanted to use the label on other locally produced foods as well.

 

The main purpose of the brand is not to promote individual wines, however, but to teach consumers a little bit of French geography, according to Jacques Gravegeal, the man behind 'South of France'.

 

"Languedoc Roussillon is still the biggest wine-producing region in the world, but it is a hidden region of France. No one knows where it is. When you talk about the south of France it is different, it creates an image in peoples' minds," he told BeverageDaily.com at this year's Vinisud wine show.

 

Under current proposals, the 'South of France' banner will be strapped onto wine bottles alongside individual labels. Regional government and industry coffers have offered a combined €20m to market the brand.

 

Thierry Mellenotte said he had received plenty of interest from wine merchants.