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Anjou investors chase drier styles as sweet sales dwindle

Published:  16 July, 2019

The renaissance of dry Chenin wines, together with dwindling sales of sweet wines, have driven investors in Quarts-de–Chaumes  the Loire’s only Grand Cru appellation  to switch production from sweet to dry wines.

Kathleen Van den Berghe, the new Belgian owner and producer at Chateau de Suronde in Quarts-de-Chaumes said she would be making Chenin dry wines, with sweet wines production limited to certain vintages.

The move comes as Ampelio, a Loire valley wine real estate agency said investors searching for vineyard acquisitions in the Anjou were now primarily focusing on dry white wine production sites.

“Anjou vineyard prices overall have remained stable over the past five years, but prices are now increasing in the Savennières appellation, but are decreasing in sweet wine Anjou appellations,” Marine Boudignon, managing partner of Ampelio told Harpers.

Ivan Massonnat, the most recent largest investor in the region, following his acquisition of 25 ha of vineyards in three Anjou appellations including Savennières last year, told Harpers that about 90% of his white production would be dry Chenin wines. About 10 ha of his new estate, which he has named Belargus, is found in Quarts-de-Chaumes where producers are now seeking to establish premier cru status for dry Chenin wines.

“It is impossible to sell sweet wines. There is growing consumer demand for dry whites, due to a range of factors; from female drinkers to changes in eating habits with less meat consumption,” said Massonnat. “Although one of the challenges will be the price point of Chenin wines, there is a clear opportunity and potential for them.”

Speaking at the World Chenin Conference held in Angers earlier this month, Fanny Gautier, manager of the economy and studies observatory of Inter-loire, the Loire wines industry body, said dry and medium-dry Chenin Blanc from Anjou-Saumur has been sold at French supermarkets at an average price of €5.82 over the past year, while average prices for Savennières wines were €10.

Savennières producers such as Eric Morgat, however, are now selling entry-level dry Chenin wines at €50 bottle to the on-trade in France and in Scandinavia. The best new wave organic/biodynamic and terroir-driven dry Chenin wines were showcased at the annual La Paulée de L’Anjou tasting event held at Nicolas Joly’s Coulee de Serrant on June 30. The renaissance of dry Chenin wine comes amidst swelling consumer demand for dry white wines in France and internationally.

French daily newspaper Le Monde said red wine sales in French supermarkets had fallen by 20% over the past 10 years while white wines sales increased by 6% over the same period. On July 2nd, the newspaper said diners in Paris restaurants were eating less meat with vegetarian dishes increasingly paired with white wines rather than red. It added that the French were drinking less spirits and more fizz and white and rosé wines as aperitifs. Most Chenin plantings in the Loire are used for Cremant sparkling wines (63% of 522.000hl of Chenin produced in 2018), but the rise in demand for dry white wines comes as exports to the US have tripled in value to €67 million and doubled in volume to 11.4 million bottles over the past 10 years, according to Inter-Loire.

Ampelio said that as many as half of Anjou producers were expected to retire within the next five years, with many producers not passing on their vineyards to their children. The latest producer to retire is the renowned local organic and biodynamic winemaker, Guy Rochais, one of the rebel pioneers of quality dry Chenin blanc production. Rochais said he had sold Chateau de Plaisance estate for an undisclosed sum to financiers.

“A group of financiers in France have acquired my estate. I am retiring in August,” he said.

Massonnat added: “I was truly shocked by the number of vineyards available for sale in the Anjou when I started looking for sites. All doors were open.”