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Villages people

Published:  23 July, 2008

Sales of AC Ctes du Rhne set off at an athletic pace in the UK market as the new millennium dawned.

The Ctes du Rhne wines from the 16 named' villages are performing well in the UK market. Bercovici reports the particular success of wines from the village of Rasteau, due to the steady improvements in quality. It's a village that five years ago was underperforming, but now has a handful of exceptional estates,' he says. It's a combination of new winemakers coming in and the run of good vintages.'

An example of the next generation revitalising a small southern Rhne estate is Domaine Saladin in the nearby village of Laudun. Marie-Laurence Saladin and her sister Elisabeth recently took over the 7-hectare (ha) family estate from their father, Louis, and are experimenting with new techniques while maintaining the traditional terroir-driven Rhne style of the wines with great success. Marie-Laurence reports that she has taken her father's winemaking style as a model, but, for example, lengthened the vinification period of her Syrah from the typical 8-10 days up to 23 days.

Berry Bros & Rudd's Rhne buyer, Simon Field MW, was recently impressed with the Domaine Saladin Ctes du Rhne Villages Cuve Chaveyron, during a buying trip to the region, and is optimistic about the potential for Ctes du Rhne Villages in the UK. On the one hand, there are very real problems of overproduction and a declining domestic market in the Rhne Valley,' he says. On the other hand, there is a new spirit of self-confidence.'

Specialist independent wine merchants sell 9% by volume of Rhne wines sold in the UK, but it is with the UK multiple retailers that the strong generic branding of Ctes du Rhne really comes into its own. Raisin Social recently introduced the Coteau Brl from Cave de Cairanne to the UK through Tesco (at 5.99 with an introductory price of 3.99). Wine development manager Gerard Barnes reports that the large retailers continue to respond positively to the Rhne appellations, even though promoting wines from the village of Cairanne has been a bit of a struggle. Although Cairanne is the biggest of the named villages, the name still doesn't mean a great deal in the UK', says Barnes. The wine has already had some sales success in the UK, but this first regular listing for Cave de Cairanne represents an opportunity to see whether we are correct that Cairanne will be a major hit with the UK consumer,' he adds.

At the premium end of the Rhne's production, the wines from the northern crus have tended to steal the spotlight in the UK, but the five southern crus of Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Chteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac and Tavel are now also beginning to attract attention as producers improve the quality of their wines. The Ctes du Rhne Crus category grew 4.7% to the end of last year (MAT Nov/Dec 2004, AC Nielsen), and Yapp reports that all the southern crus are selling exceptionally well and starting to break through to the UK consumer at last'.

According to Yapp, Chteauneuf-du-Pape remains popular, but Lirac in particular stands out for its excellent wines - at much more reasonable prices. Why this appellation has gained wider recognition already is a bit of a mystery,' he says. Simon Taylor, of Winchester wine merchant Stone, Vine & Sun, was impressed by the wines from Vacqueyras on a recent visit to the Rhne (see box page 23), and Bercovici has also seen a dramatic improvement in quality from the village in the past few years.

The improvement in the quality of the wines from the lesser-known crus and named villages bodes well for producers in southern Rhne. The key to future success is what happens next. Competition is tough from all over the south of France, but the spirit and personality of the Rhne Valley region has been brilliantly promoted thus far by Inter Rhne,' concludes Thorpe. The big challenge will be how to maintain the momentum.'