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Anything for a simple life

Published:  18 January, 2007

Another Vinexpo is over, and it's time to assess its success. While I haven't yet seen the attendance figures, the general opinion of those in charge of stands is that they saw all their existing clients, but saw very few new people. Colleagues on Asian wine magazines say they felt that the Far East was worse represented this year than two years ago.

But I did see smiling faces from an unlikely source: Bordeaux ngociants. One, who had one of the largest stands, right in the centre of Hall 1, came up to me on the last day, almost jumping with the excitement of the show: I have been to every Vinexpo, and this was the best ever,' he said.

And I didn't encounter the usual bugbear of Vinexpo - bad traffic. Somehow the police got us in and out of the Bordeaux Lac Parc des Expositions in record time. Even getting over the dreaded Pont d'Aquitaine was faster than ever before. How they did this remains a mystery, although I did see queues of traffic coming out of Bordeaux itself. Maybe Bordeaux traffic was held up for Vinexpo traffic, in which case the Bordelais will have been breathing sighs of relief come last Friday.

And the air conditioning worked. In fact, in the new

Hall 3, it was almost cold. It was certainly needed. Vinexpo worked its magic on the weather - hot, humid days were the order of the week. The weather broke the day after the show closed - how's that for planning?

The development that intrigued me most at Vinexpo was a new approach for preventing counterfeiting. As so often in France, this came out of an initiative called for by the government (the Economic Ministry) and, in particular, the Imprimerie Nationale, the French equivalent of the Stationery Office. These organisations wanted a technique that could prevent counterfeit goods in a number of industries: car parts, medicine, aircraft spares and, of course, wine.

The answer could lie in two systems developed by two French companies, Algoril and Prooftag. The more sophisticated uses a small circle of bubble wrap imprisoned in a small metal tag. Each bottle of wine is given a unique circle which, according to Franck Bourrire of Prooftag, will only ever be repeated once every million years. The code is linked to a central computer, and can be accessed by a shopper in a wine store via a mobile phone. The cost is 15 cents a bottle for larger volumes and 50 cents for smaller producers. Already some of Bordeaux's grandes marques have expressed an interest.

An alternative, cheaper system has been developed by Algoril. This consists of a unique number for every bottle, again linked centrally and accessible via the Internet or mobile phone.

Both systems are seriously needed. In wine alone, 20 million bottles of false Champagne are sold in China every year.

If ever there was a cri du coeur in a wine name, it must be Be Simple'. It's what the world has been telling France for many years. In fact, in my local paper, there was a story about Vinexpo that told its readers that the world is confused by French wines, and wants simplicity.

So now we have Be Simple'. It's a red Bordeaux - just imagine this most proud of wine regions even thinking of a name like this in the past. Produced by a small ngociant, Le Marrec Vins Domaines et Chteaux (logo: Another spirit of wine'), which was established only in 1992, it is described as fruity, fleshy and balanced - just the style that the British consumer wants to drink. And it comes in a screwcap bottle.

The press release that accompanied the wine speaks of its acceptance in the major export markets and says, But France doesn't seem to be ready to give it a try. How long can the country remain unwilling to look at contemporary Bordeaux?'

Be Simple isn't alone. Les Vignerons Catalans had one of the more festive stands at Vinexpo, with its launch of Fruit Catalan, red, ros and white vins de pays from Roussillon. As much fun as the wine's presentation were the piles of fruit on the stand, all part of the promotion of wine as something fruity.

I hope initiatives such as Be Simple and Fruit Catalan can kick-start French wine sales. Figures recently released suggest that exports fell by 9.2% in 2004, and by 13% in the first quarter of 2005. So serious is the problem that the French government is going to appoint a special commissioner to work out ways of boosting exports. He or she will have a budget of €7 million to play with.

As French minister of agriculture Dominique Bussereau said in his speech that opened Vinexpo, France doesn't always attract new consumers who want wines that are simpler to buy and consume, not to say easier to appreciate'.