Le Beaujolais est arrivé - but where are the buyers?

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The Independent Online

The fad for "fast wines" has collapsed in Britain and is fading rapidly in France and other European countries. This year's Beaujolais Nouveau - launched at midnight last night - is struggling to find buyers in Europe, despite efforts to reduce quantity and improve quality.

The fad for "fast wines" has collapsed in Britain and is fading rapidly in France and other European countries. This year's Beaujolais Nouveau - launched at midnight last night - is struggling to find buyers in Europe, despite efforts to reduce quantity and improve quality.

There has been a big increase in sales in Japan and America, which is finally overcoming its hostility to all things French, but advance sales of the "primeur", or 2004 vintage, Beaujolais have collapsed in Britain, the country which the led the way in building the Beaujolais Nouveau craze in the 1970s.

Georges Duboeuf, the dominant Beaujolais exporting company, reports a 30 per cent drop in advance UK sales this year. There have also been disappointing sales in France, Germany and other EU countries. As a result, despite intensive efforts to reduce yields and improve quality by using only the very best grapes from this year's bumper harvest, many growers are faced with low prices and unsold stocks resulting in a Beaujolais Nouveau lake.

"The situation is catastrophic this year," said Jean-Louis de Talancé, a producer at Petit Talancé in the Beaujolais hills, in southern Burgundy. "I've sold only 20 per cent of my harvest. I'm going to have 100,000 litres, including 60,000 litres of Beaujolais Nouveau, left on my hands."

Other growers are being offered only €140 (£98) a hectolitre, the equivalent of just over €1 a bottle, to buy up surplus Beaujolais - 25 per cent less than the expected asking price.

The problems in Beaujolais reflect a wider crisis in the French wine industry, which is being pushed out of its traditional markets for mid-range price wines, especially in Britain, by the increased popularity of wines from Australia, Chile, the US and Italy.

A bumper harvest of grapes, and excellent vintages, have been reported right across France this autumn but only wine-growers at the very top end of the market are assured of good sales. However, Beaujolais producers accept that they have partly caused their own problems.

In the boom years yields of grapes per hectare were allowed to explode and the quality of the young wine was allowed to suffer. For several years all sales of Beaujolais have been falling. More traditional growers accuse the Beaujolais Nouveau industry of ruining the reputation of the whole region.

Following an agreement between Beaujolais producers and traders the infant grapes on the vines were thinned out in the spring and early summer and only the best were kept in the harvest in August.

Only 420,000 hectolitres, or 56 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau will be marketed this autumn, the same figure as last year when spring frosts and a hot summer greatly reduced the tonnage of grapes.

The quality of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau is said to be excellent "with aromas of raspberry and gooseberry". None the less, early sales figures are disturbing. Sales in France dropped by 10 per cent in 2002 and 13 per cent in 2003 - and a similar fall is expected this year.

"Ten years ago people would buy Beaujolais Nouveau during a whole month. Now it lasts for three days: the Thursday, Friday and Saturday," said Gael Chauvet of the Lavinia wine shop chain.

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