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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

Jean-Marie Chadronnier, president and MD of CVBG-Dourthe-Kressmann, and one of the three wise men' on the CAP 2010 committee which has proposed the new category Cpages de France (CdF), has told the French Minister of Agriculture that he is disappointed in the lack of progress on the plan. Speaking to Harpers at Vinexpo (of which he was president), Chadronnier said that at a meeting in Bordeaux he had pressed the minister for a decision, and received an assurance that one would be made by September this year. Meanwhile, the French industry continues to be divided on the proposal. Among opponents are many Vin de Pays (VdP) producers, who either feel that the category is unnecessary or fear that it will harm them. Among the former is Samuel Guibert de la Vaissire, of Mas de Daumas Gassac, who spent six years in New Zealand. Arguing that there is already enough flexibility with AOC and VdP, he dismissed CdF, saying, It's not going to solve the problem. The Australians are very clever. The one thing they can't buy is history and tradition. So they're pushing the French to develop vins de cpage, while they're creating appellations. Ten years from now they'll be able to turn round and say, "Look at us: we've got terroir wines. You've only got varietal wines." The answer,' he continued, is to learn from our mistakes. We have to stop thinking, "We're the best lovers, we have the best cheeses, the best wines, etc etc etc." Even if that's true,' he said, we need to be more proactive on the marketing side.' In response to the suggestion that CdF would make it easier to develop big brands to compete with those from the New World, de la Vaissire said, We need to learn from others, but not to copy them. Passion is the best brand. I believe in soft brands. Hard brands are far too costly to market. Australian brands are discounted. When the promotions stop, they'll stop.' His comments were echoed by Miren de Lorgeril of Vignobles Lorgeril, which owns Chteau de Pennautier and two others in AOC Cabards, and another in AOC Minervois La Livinire, but also produces VdP. Brands based on CdF would be a good idea, she said, only if the French Minister of Agriculture would sell them. It's not a good idea to be copying New World brands, to sell wine like Coca-Cola. We can't make Europe like the New World.' She added that there has not been sufficient reflection. It's all very French, very Napoleonic, very technocratic. But is it very clever?' She also doubted whether CdF would bring the consistency needed for the development of big brands, as in France grape varieties are so different in different places'. Chadronnier defended the CdF proposal, however. It's absolutely necessary, now more than ever, that the French produce and market wines under the same rules as our competitors. VdP producers [who oppose CdF] should speak to consumers in the UK, in the US, in Germany, and see what's important to them. We need to try to understand why Australia has been successful. I'm not saying we should copy them. I've never said that. But if I keep losing when playing rugby against England, I better try to understand why. We have to stop being producers, and to see what we can do with what we produce. There is a new generation of consumers, and if we go to them with the same wines, it's like trying to sell a car as it was made 25 years ago.' Regarding France's ability to compete with the New World in the mid-market, he said, I'm upset by what I read in the press about the poor quality of French wines. It's not fair. Yes, we have poor wines, but you also need to look at the good wines in the 5 to 6 bracket, and see what we're able to do in that segment.' Chadronnier said that despite the noisy opposition to CdF, he had also received a lot of support for it. I feel sorry for the lack of awareness, not the opposition,' he insisted. They oppose because they have the feeling that it's dangerous to change. Whenever I'm able to explain it to them, they quickly agree.'