Mad rush for Rhône wines in the US

Article from 06-08-2006

On the 28th July, daily paper La Provence carried the headline “Côtes-du-Rhône hip again in USA.”

After a long slack period from 2002 to 2004, sales have really taken off over the first five months of this year: + 37 % in volume, + 46 % in value compared to the beginning of 2005.

It’s even become cool to drink Côtes-du-rhône, and Rasteau (one of the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages) “is the thing to be seen with” in Manhattan, Seattle or San Francisco according to Christophe Cardona, export sales manager for Cave de Rasteau and Adrian Chalk, Lauber Imports’ product manager for France. “People who drink this type of wine are often quite sophisticated, they’ve traveled and are open-minded.”

What’s the battle plan for getting noticed in the States?

On 31st July we met Philippe Granier, fourth generation winegrower in the Drôme region of Provence on his 19 hectares at Domaine de Servans. Plenty of old vines, no bad thing for Grenache. His wines are much talked about; two ‘coups de coeur’ (‘personal favorites’) in the Guide Hachette in 95 and 2000.

10 % of production is exported to the USA. “We work with an importer in New York, Ohio, Kentucky... they take our entry level wines in all 3 colors. But now we want to go in with the top of the range.” We tried Philippe Granier’s Jonas 2003 and 2001 blends, and he showed us a new 2003 cuvée called Opulence. “We decided to try to get Robert Parker to score this wine. It’s a good way to get noticed. If it’s a good score. It’s a bit of a gamble.”

And how do you do that on the ground?

“We sent the importer 12 bottles of Opulence, with corks and capsules but no labels apart from the legal stuff on a back-label; volume, alcohol level, sulfites... We added them to one of our usual shipments. The importer’s going to send them to Parker and the Wine Spectator. If all goes well, they’ll be tasted and rated around October time.”

Outside, it’s almost dark. The Mistral wind has picked up. Thanks to this year’s heatwave, they’ll need to closely watch the grapes ripening. Squeeze a few taken from different plots each week; measure the PH, potential alcohol and acidity. Every week then every other day. Picking at the right moment is one of the key elements to good wine. “We weren’t used to these heatwaves. But we’ve learnt a lot in the past five years.”

Photos Thierry Vallier

Domaine de Servans
Avenue de Provence
26790 Tulette
+33(0)4 75 98 31 47

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