France Fights Back, Redux

Signs are promising that the French wine industry will rally.


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There are those who believe we're in an economic war with the rest of the world, and what's good for the French wine industry, for example, is necessarily bad for California's. That's the way a hard-nosed economist might look at it—at least while he's at the office. Once he comes home, takes off his tie and opens a bottle of wine, he will, in most cases, feel differently: As his inner wine enthusiast emerges, he will remember that competition is good. He can love this country with the utmost patriotic fervor and still appreciate a great Burgundy. And when his professional self reasserts itself, it will be to this tune: let the American wine industry crush France's. But let me stock my cellar with fine Bordeaux first.

One of the most controversial articles we've done in the past few years was "France Fights Back" (November 2004). For many years, France had struggled with problems of overproduction of wine, labor and farm community strife, plunging per-capita wine consumption among the French and sagging export sales. But last year, when the picture seemed most bleak, European Editor Roger Voss reported that the French were taking steps to stem the tide. And now there are signs that matters are turning around, however slowly.

According to CFCE statistics provided by Sopexa USA, French wine sales in this country are rebounding from 2003 and 2004's rather abysmal sales. From January to August, volume of sales was up 4.1% and value received was up 3.3%. Admittedly, the continuing robust sales of Champagne are helping to drive this trend, but sales of still wines are improving.

Another sign of France's great past and its promising future is found in our wine awards. In this issue, we honor outstanding achievement in wine and spirits in 2005. Once the complicated and time-consuming process of picking nominees and then the ultimate winners was over, we found that three of our ten winners were from France: Our Man of the Year is Patrick Ricard of Pernod Ricard; in 20 short years, he has created a multibillion-dollar wine and spirits juggernaut out of a small pastis company. Our European Winery of the Year is Louis Roederer; with Jean-Claude Rouzaud at the helm, the venerable Champagne producer has remained independent and successful by keeping its focus firmly on quality. And the award for Lifetime Achievement goes to Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who, since taking the reins of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, has preserved its legacy as well as generated innovations and acquisitions that will carry it well into the next century.

Read the stories behind these award winners, and those of seven others.

Also in this issue, Roger Voss reports on the growing importance of red table wines in the Douro, the region in Portugal where Port is produced. A new generation of winemakers is crafting table wines as well as Ports, and many of these wines are excellent.

Monica Larner reports on Moscato d'Asti, the underrated semisparkling wine from Italy. Moscato is a simple, light sparkler, but one with its own charms. Sometimes, during the holiday season, a lighter, more approachable wine is just what is called for. Moscato d'Asti fills that bill.

On television recently I saw two 20-something hosts of a news show bantering about Tequila, and challenging each other to drink the worm at the bottom of the bottle. I had to laugh at their desperate attempt at hipness. There is no worm in Tequila bottles. Mescal, sometimes. In his article, F. Paul Pacult, takes a side-by-side look at Tequila and mescal, the two agave-based spirits from Mexico. Now that Tequila is a premium sipping spirit in the U.S., producers of mescal are hoping to elevate its image here, too.

And that's the nature of the wine and spirits industry: fierce competition alongside healthy respect for the other's product. May we all drink well and prosper in 2006.

Cheers!

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