Is there finally cause for optimism in the French wine industry? UK volume has slipped a little, if not as much as in previous years, but the country's improved performance by value suggests that France is finally benefiting from consumers' desire to trade up. As Charles Collard, managing director of Sopexa UK, puts it: "France is in a much better place than it was three years ago."
Collard points to
strong performances by Bordeaux, the Loire, Côtes du Rhône and Burgundy as evidence of France's fight back in its most traditional of markets. Despite a loss of listings, due to "major changes in the own-label ranges", Collard adds
there is also a "resurgence of interest in vins de pays, which represent 40 per cent of French wine sales in the UK ". Judges at the 2007 Top 100 competition were more impressed than ever before by the diversity and quality of France's vins de pays .
France has also benefited from the general excellence of the 2005 vintage and the deserved praise (and high prices) accorded the best wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône.
The next year was not in the same league, but France
ha s secured its position as the UK's number two supplier, at least for now.
France's greatest strength is above £5, where it has 28 per cent of the market, according to Nielsen. Its branded position is also encouraging, with JP Chenet and Blason de Bourgogne both showing strong growth, and new entrants to the market, such as La Terre and Renaissance, also performing well. Only Piat d'Or appears to be struggling .
Most encouragingly of all, France finally appears to be combining its expertise in the vineyard and cellar with a more modern approach to marketing, labelling and selling its wines. Could France regain the number one spot? Don't bet against it by 2015.