French Vintners Plow on as Wine Glut Looms

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Years of overproduction have caused a surplus of wine in France. The country has lost market share in recent years as Chile, Australia and other countries produce more wine for the world market. Even so, French winemakers are resisting calls to reduce production.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. Too much wine could pose a variety of problems. In France, it's trouble for the industry. This year's vintage will come as last year's surplus is still filling up the available storage. Here's NPR's Adam Davidson.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

There are about 100 million gallons of surplus wine in France. How much is that? Picture a swimming pool as big as a football field and ten feet deep. Now picture a hundred of them. That's a hundred million gallons. So where do they keep all that wine? I asked David Skalli of Skalli and Rein, a French wine industry consultant.

Mr. DAVID SKALLI (French wine consultant): We have, kind of huge places, owned by the EU right now, where all the wine is kept.

DAVIDSON: So, what does it look like? Is it like a lake or like a big bottle, what does it look like?

Mr. SKALLI: Like a lake you mean or it looks like a huge oil tank.

DAVIDSON: There are actually thousands of these tanks all over France, filled with wine that couldn't be sold. Any economist would say this problem has a simple solution, lower the price of wine.

Mr. PAUL WAGNER (American wine marketing consultant): Yes. Two buck Jacques, as we say.

DAVIDSON: That's Paul Wagner, an American wine marketing consultant. He says two buck Jacques, industry slang for a super cheap bottle of French wine, is something you'll never see.

Mr. WAGNER: Most consumers, and certainly most American consumers, draw the conclusion that wine is basically as good as its price.

DAVIDSON: So, if surplus Bordeaux started selling for two bucks a bottle this year, no one would be willing to pay ten bucks for that bottle next year. Wagner says French wines have another problem, Americans don't understand them. Americans like big, fruity, showy wines. The kind that are grown in California or Australia, not the subtle, elegant wines of France. He says French vineyards should have been educating Americans about how to enjoy more refined wines.

Mr. WAGNER: Sometimes when you go out to dinner you don't want to go out to dinner with Dolly Parton. Sometimes you want to go out to dinner with Catherine Deneuve.

DAVIDSON: The U.S. is becoming the world's number 1 wine market. If the French don't learn how to talk to Americans, Wagner says, those surpluses won't be going away. French wine consultant, Skalli, says it's the agricultural policies of France and the European Union that caused this problem. The French and EU government set a price for any wine that cannot be sold.

Mr. SKALLI: A lot of people are even playing this kind of game, saying, well, they're going to have to buy it, so, well who cares about the quality of the wine.

DAVIDSON: Skalli says some French vineyards know their wine will never reach the marketplace. They grow the grapes, harvest them, and make wine - all the while knowing they'll sell it as government surplus. The government plans to turn that surplus wine into cheap brandy or even fuel. They might make a few pennies back for every dollar they spend. It's not an efficient system, Skalli says, but it's not going to go away any time soon.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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