Food & Drink: Wine In The Time of Covid19

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Wine: We offer an insight into how the Bourgogne wine region is coping with the Covid-19 crisis.

In Bourgogne (Burgundy), business has slowed but the vines are bursting with life.
With the end of lockdown upon us in France, the vines are beating records in terms of how early they are this year, while estates, the négoce trade, and cooperative cellars are managing to maintain a certain level of business. But markets have slowed right down, with hotels and restaurants – key outlets for Bourgogne wines –particularly hard-hit both in France and at export. The vines are almost three weeks ahead!

Despite the pandemic, #LaVigneContinue (the vines grow on). And this year, in Bourgogne, the 2020 vintage seems particularly keen to come to life. After a mild winter and hot weather in early spring, by the end of April, the vines were two to three weeks ahead of where the 2019 vintage was on this date. With alternating days of lovely sunshine and springtime rain, flowering will probably occur between now and mid-May, which is very early compared to the average over the past 25 years, usually around 9 June. Winegrowers were quick to adapt, adopting all the necessary hygiene measures to be able to continue to work.

More recently, the issue of seasonal workers has been a concern. François Labet, Co-President of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) explains: “The work that will happen in the vines between now and the harvest will require more and more people. An initial push allowed us to complete our springtime tasks, but the issue of manpower for the harvests is now a central one. The industry is awaiting a response from the government regarding how they plan to deal with this.”

The French market is at a standstill, while export markets have slowed right down. In terms of exports, initial results from the first quarter are good, given the global context. After two very good months, March was more mixed. Volumes exported were stable, down just 0.7% over the first quarter in 2019 (and up compared to 2018). “We don’t have figures for April yet, but we are expecting a big drop in exports,” said Louis-Fabrice Latour, President of the BIVB. “Some markets are doing well, particularly thanks to retail outlets. This is notably the case in the UK, and for the Canadian and Scandinavian monopolies. Asia is taking off again, even though we have yet to reach cruising speed,” he added.

The French market is much trickier. Bourgogne has a particularly close relationship with the hotel and restaurant sectors, which together represent around half of all sales of its wines around the world. In France, it’s a key pillar for sales of Bourgogne wines. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with restaurants. And while they remain closed, a proportion of our wine stocks will remain in our cellars.” Major retail channels are not making up for lost sales, while direct sales are also very limited, due to the fact that cellars have had to close,and tourists are staying away. A few estates and négoce businesses have taken their sales online, via their own websites or national and international platforms, but this remains fairly rare.

Some businesses have also launched a click-and-collect service to meet local demand. Louis-Fabrice Latour again: “Until now, Bourgogne has done well, thanks to the diversity of the industry, its wines, and its markets. In particular, we have noted greater demand for those appellations offering good value for money, such as the Bourgogne or Mâcon AOCs plus a geographical denomination, Bourgogne Aligoté, Crémant de Bourgogne, and lesser-known Village AOCs. But we are anticipating things to get worse, at least until hotels, wine bars, and restaurants can once again open their doors.”