Wine Terroirs

Roussillon sets its sights on the global market

Pyrenees-Orientales is France’s fifteenth largest wine region. Its dry and sweet wines draw on skills and an array of styles rarely seen elsewhere and they are the means by which Roussillon aims to conquer high-value markets outside the EU, whilst also remaining focused on trends.

Boasting a potential area under vine of 25,000 hectares, 18,932 of them bearing, plus 24 main grape varieties, Roussillon’s vineyards are eighty percent located on hillsides, set between the sea and the mountains. “These are the sun-filled lands where Arnaud de Villeneuve invented fortification of wines in the 13th century. The diversity of vineyard sites here has attracted investors such as Michel Chapoutier, the Grier family from South Africa and Napa Valley winemaker David Swift Phinney in Maury, which can open up new markets for us”, explains Eric Aracil, export manager at the Roussillon wine marketing board, CIVR.

 

An historic vineyard with a conquering spirit

 

“Our reputation stems from our long history. In the Jonquères d'Oriola family, I represent the 27th generation”, says William Jonquères d'Oriola, owner of the estate in Corneilla del Vercol, near Perpignan. He is proud to have an urban winery in the village where he owns the impressive eponymous chateau.

The Jonquères d'Oriola family is extremely prominent in equestrian and fencing circles and has won numerous medals, including Olympic gold. William Jonquères d'Oriola, however, feels that in the wine world, you have to stay low key and prove yourself. “After working for France Boissons, a major on-trade distributor, and touring the vineyards of the world, I took over the reins of the estate in 2010. I expanded it from 58 to 95 hectares spanning 6 appellations south of Perpignan, in Collioure and Roussillon”, he recounts.

 

William Jonquères d'Oriola

William Jonquères d'Oriola, owner and winemaker of the namesake estate

 

Supporting him is his father, a trained winemaker who pioneered use of refrigeration in the winery. William has developed the estate's range of wines, placing them in strategic markets. “We had to modernise our production facilities. Renovation work in the winery, to the tune of €1 million, will be completed by 2023. My father developed boxed wine sales. I am promoting bottled sales in the hospitality industry and wine merchants. We produce 700,000 bottles annually, 60% of them shipped to export markets”.

This has been achieved by crafting a range of wine styles and developing strong brands. William has prioritised dry wines, producing only 100 hl of Muscat de Rivesaltes ‘tuilé’ in good vintages. His distribution is 80% geared to hospitality outlets and 20% wine shops, though he also sells 6 wines to local supermarkets. “With the Gris-Gris brand created in 2011, a third of rosé output, I have developed markets in the Benelux countries, Germany and France in pubs and on private beaches”.

 

Russia, a key market for negociants

 

In Perpignan, Vignerons Catalans is one of the region’s long-standing players. Founded in 1964, the co-operative-structured company combines 8 large co-operative wineries. Vignerons Catalans was responsible for marketing the first bottled wines from Roussillon in French supermarkets. Its managing director, Stéphane Zanella, says the group posts turnover of €30 million, €11 million from exports. It is the largest dry wine company in the area.

In collaboration with the wine and spirits trading company La Martiniquaise, the business is divided into three areas. “In the French market, we have long-standing ties with super/hypermarkets. Recently, we have been expanding our sales in the on-trade and wine merchants. The drop in wine production in Roussillon has led us to start promoting our wines to wholesalers, wine merchants and key accounts”, explains Zanella.

 

Stéphane Zanella

Stéphane Zanella, managing director of Vignerons Catalans

 

The company’s second line of business is exports. For the past year and a half, Vignerons Catalans has been ramping up its presence in 40 countries, including the Benelux region, Germany, the United Kingdom and China. “After Europe, we are focusing increasingly on exports to Russia and Eastern Europe, where we expect to sell 2 million bottles this year”. Here, Vignerons Catalans markets significant volumes in all three colours in Russian supermarkets, to key accounts and European companies. The company entered the market ten years ago and has a permanent Russian representative in the country, which is essential for working with 20,000 shops nationwide.

A third focus of development is the United Kingdom, which has been growing for two years. “The UK experiences cycles. The profile of our wines has evolved and there is room for our PGI Côtes-Catalanes and Côtes-Vermeille wines, which suit English tastes”, says Zanella. The regional wines offer the kind of value of money that allows them to compete with Spanish, Italian and New World wines. “We still have to conquer Latin America, which is looking for complementary ranges, and can clock up hundreds of thousands of bottles for us”, believes Zanella.

 

The highly sought-after Asian and US markets

 

The United States and China are the main growth drivers for beverage alcohol, accounting for two-thirds of global consumption. The US market is mature and has a soft spot for the Languedoc-Roussillon appellations, but it is dominated by companies like Michel Chapoutier, Gérard Bertrand and Domaine Lafage. “In the US, we launched sweet wine sales two years ago. We market our entire Tradition Muscat de Rivesaltes range (Garnet, Amber, Tuilé) in vintage-style packaging in this market. We released a fashionable dry rosé in Fresh Markets in Florida”, says Gaëtan Pierre, export director at the Arnaud de Villeneuve winery in Rivesaltes.

In New York, William Jonquères d'Oriola's Muscat de Rivesaltes tuilé opened up a micro-market, paving the way for him to introduce American consumers to his dry wines. “The reason we are still here is because our sweet wines are a defining feature. We sell them in the North American market and in the Benelux countries”, says Guillaume Arbus, head of sales at the Arnaud de Villeneuve winery.

 

Château de Corneilla

Château de Corneilla

 

Market demand in Japan and China focuses on mature vintages, and the Arnaud de Villeneuve winery is a long-standing producer. “In Singapore, I market an amber 1965 Rivesaltes, the Republic of Singapore’s date of independence”, says Gaëtan Pierre. The winery now directs the Asian market towards its Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon Village offerings. “Through our importer in Shanghai, we are able to promote our entire range in the Chinese market, which absorbs 18,000 of the 40,000 bottles of our red RD 900 Côtes du Roussillon Village label. In Japan, we distribute our Viognier and Chardonnay wines through Seijo Ishii stores”, adds Pierre.

 

Recent research by the IWSR, a global expert in wine and spirits consumption patterns, forecasts  43% growth in 2021 in the ready-to-drink category, primarily due to the United States, which is the segment’s leading market worldwide. “At Vignerons Catalans, our development strategy will focus on sparkling wines in cans. The format is very widespread in the US, where 500 million cans were sold in 2020. We are going to leverage growth in the ready-to-drink category with sweetened whites and rosés”, says Stéphane Zanella.

 

This is a wise move considering that carbonated drinks are in the process of becoming the second largest beverage alcohol category in the US. The growth of cocktails in cans was boosted by lockdown, corroborating Vignerons Catalans’ decision to approach this test market.

 

From legendary age-worthy pours to mixology

 

Companies producing Muscat de Rivesaltes have available volumes and mixology could open up new markets. “The Roussillon marketing board is targeting this market with Muscat de Rivesaltes and Rivesaltes ambré. We have launched two cocktails – a Muscat Lemon, with 50% Muscat, lemonade and a dash of lemon at 7-8°ABV, which delivers genuine aromatic pleasure. And a Muscat Ginger in the same vein as the Moscow Mule with a dash of lime”, explains Éric Aracil.

The mature vintages help boost Roussillon’s dessert wine credentials as legendary wines for laying down. The Arnaud de Villeneuve winery has realised the potential of differentiating between the two. The Rivesaltes co-operative hives off certain vintages like the 1936 for collectors. “This 85-year-old amber Rivesaltes attracts wine merchants looking for real gems that offer competitive price points for the quality”, points out Guillaume Arbus.

 

The colossal winery at Arnaud de Villeneuve in Rivesaltes

The colossal winery at Arnaud de Villeneuve in Rivesaltes

 

The winery has also reviewed its Tradition range of AOP Muscat de Rivesaltes based on 1930s marketing cues that enable it to approach fashionable pubs and cocktail bars. Back in Rivesaltes, 15% of its production is sweet. At Domaine Cazes, managing director Lionel Lavail says, “We have a collection of 74 vintages. Dessert wines represent 20% of our production and it’s a market we will never let go of”.

Roussillon has the lowest yields in France and its wines are exported to 85 countries. “Roussillon offers one of the broadest arrays of styles in the world. Muscat de Rivesaltes could capitalise on opportunities in the mixology industry, export markets included”, concludes Aracil.

 

Focusing on organic wines and wine tourism

 

Maison Cazes, which belongs to international group Advini, is rightly deemed to be one of Roussillon’s driving forces, pioneering wine tourism and biodynamics in France. Its dry and sweet wines are served at Michelin-starred tables around the world. With 330 hectares of vines farmed organically, biodynamically and according to HVE 3 standards, Cazes estates own Clos de Paulilles near Collioure, Domaine du Chêne in the Aspres and Mas Latour Lavail along the terraces of the river Têt.

A leading light for organic wine, at the cutting edge of innovation, the company has both Ecocert and Biodivin certification, and is also certified in Switzerland, the United States, Canada, Japan, Brazil, South Korea and China.

“We are the leading Roussillon company in the restaurant and travel retail sectors. We are due to launch the Cap au Sud brand in supermarkets, which is a range of three dry organic and biodynamic Pays d'Oc wines, and Grand Cap, a Côtes du Roussillon Village. These are sun-filled, full-bodied, Catalan wines, with a consumer-focused app inspired by the lunar calendar”, says Domaine Cazes’ managing director.

 

Lionel Lavail

 

Lionel Lavail, managing director of Maison Cazes in Rivesaltes

 

The company aims to showcase Catalan lifestyle at its organic ‘canteen’ La Table d'Aimé in Rivesaltes and its guest rooms at Mas Latour Lavail. “At Domaine du Grand Chêne, a 35-hectare property at the foot of Mount Canigou, we are converting the vineyards over to biodynamic and plan to make natural wines under the Côtes du Roussillon Village Les Aspres appellation”, says Lavail. And that’s an offer the Chinese are not likely to pass up on.