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'South West' now fastest growing French region for red wine exports to the UK

Published:  20 March, 2017

France's 'South West' wine region has become the country's fastest-growing exporter of red wines to the UK, new official figures from French customs have revealed.

The 'Sud Ouest', as its known, has bucked the downward trend of the country's larger more established wine regions, including its big neighbour Bordeaux, with UK-bound exports of appellation red wine jumping 32% in value on volumes up 36% in 2016 compared with 2015.

The red wine trade of local grape varieties, including Tannat and Manseng Noir, is led by Plaimont Producers, the biggest co-operative of the region, which has newly secured a footing in the UK on-trade with new softer Tannat wines from Madiran, and in the off-trade at wine merchants and supermarkets like Tesco and M&S where its 2014 wines are sold. 

"Export growth of red wines from appellations has been driven by the Saint Mont appellation in the off-trade and by the Madiran appellation in the on-trade," said Marc Vachet, commercial director at Plaimont Producers.

"White wines from Gascony are well known, but the identity of red wines from Gascony is less developed," Vachet said.

Red wine exports from PGI areas such as Gascony increased in 2016 in terms of volume - up 4%, but they fell 2% in terms of value when compared to 2015.

Consumers now appeared more interested in the reds than the whites, Adnams wine business development manager Simon Richards told Harpers, adding red appellation wine from the South West wine region of France, especially Gascony, had a style of their own and with "plenty of freshness".

As well as development from Plaimont and Irouleguy producers, the 'Sud-Ouest' wine board said red wine has been resurgent in Cahors with Malbec and in Gaillac and Fronton.

"Wine companies are increasingly asking the commercial focus to be on the UK," said Paul Fabre, director of the 'Sud Ouest' wine board.

Appearing undeterred by the prospect of Brexit, Fabre said the wine board was preparing a commercial event in the UK in 2018.

"The area undoubtedly produces some of the best value whites in the world and some of the more expensive whites - around the £10 to £15 mark- are really impressive however, the reds are now really starting to shine and delivering excellent value for money," said James Franklin, associate director and head of sales at British independent wine merchant, Corney & Barrow.

"I think it is fair to say that in its purest form Tannat is a big grape, but modern wine making techniques and blending is resulting in reds with far more approachability and accessibility," he said. "This for me makes the South West reds wines to watch, and as prices increase elsewhere in France, the region offers such great value for money."

According to Plaimont Producers, climate change has led to the earlier ripening of grapes making it easier for ancient local red varieties to reach maturity.

The co-operative has more than 800 members working on more than 5,000 ha, and has developed France's most important Ampelographic Conservatory. In recent years it has been making wines with lower alcohol levels whilst developing their aromatic complexity.

Having drawn the attention of buyers internationally, the co-operative was looking at ways, including tourism, to make its wine better known to customers, said Plaimont's director Olivier Bourdet-Pées.

"Now 80% of vineyards in France grow the top 20 most used varieties, but we have chosen not to go down this motorway taste but rather to be in the space of discovery - 0ur local varieties, which may be less known, are complementary to our climate," he said.  

The South West export boost for red wines however lies in stark contrast with the fall of white wine exports to the UK in 2016.

 Most white wine from the South West wine region is made in the Gascony PGI: last year regional whites fell by 15% in volumes and 10% in value in comparison with 2015, according to French Customs. 

Meanwhile appellation-produced whites fell dramatically by 54% in volumes and 52% in value, according to the data. 

Plaimont Producers has reportedly removed some of its high-end whites. The co-operative and the regional wine board however played down the fall in exports saying white wine exports had already started to bounce back this year.

Adnams in Suffolk meanwhile said PGI regional whites from South West France could be explained by increased popularity of main varietals, rather than local and less well-known grapes and as well as the resurgence and increasing popularity of well priced wines from Eastern Europe, especially Romania.

A further source suggested Colombard from South Africa may have had an impact on regional white wine exports to the UK. The general decline in UK-bound 'Sud Ouest' white wine has failed to dent the enthusiasm for Plaimont Producers from UK wine merchants.

Dan Kirby, store manager at Adnams in Southold said: "Adnams are always overjoyed by their reliability and dependability in terms of quality winemaking and value for money across the breadth of their range. We've been buying their top cuvée La Faîte for as long as we've been buying their £6.99 Colombard."

"Personally I love their white wines, their cleanliness and crispness steal the show for me, it's fabulous how they manage to showcase the intrinsic qualities of traditional varietals while making approachable and interesting wines."