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How the Beaujolais Wine Region has Evolved in the 21st Century

Beaujolais has many claims to being regarded as a classic wine region, but it’s one which has had its fair share of difficulties during the 21st century.  Continuing urban sprawl, low wine prices and Europe’s decreasing interest in the Beaujolais Nouveau campaign have all contributed to what has been described as a Crisis Viticole. This has led to difficult, sometimes tragic, human consequences for winegrowers.

As the official body for Beaujolais wines, Inter Beaujolais have been keenly promoting the region through participation in trade fairs, tastings and masterclasses.  They have kindly released basic data on vineyard area, production and sales which help paint a picture of how the region has developed during the early 21st century.

Beaujolais-Historical-VineyVineyard prices in Beaujolais have dropped significantly over the past 20 years  According to Lyon Capital, the price of generic Beaujolais vineyard has fallen on average from €38,000/ha in 1990 to €13,900 in 2010.  Over the same period the average sales price of Beaujolais Villages vineyard has fallen from €49,800 to €12,700.   Beginning in 2005, winegrowers were offered a compensation of €6,300/ha if they chose to pull up their vines.  With seemingly grim prospects, a number of winegrowers decided to quit.  This had the effect of reducing the total Beaujolais vineyard from around 23,000 ha in 2005 to around 17,000 ha today.  Most of the vines uprooted were located within generic Beaujolais vineyards (down ca. 34% since 2005) and Beaujolais Villages vineyards (down ca. 30% since 2005).  Beaujolais Crus vineyards have lost only ca. 7% of their area since 2005.

Beaujolais-Production Vintage effects have a marked impact on wine production from the region.  The European heatwave of 2003 resulted in a much smaller harvest (and also one with higher than normal sugar contents).  Wine production for Beaujolais totalled only 0.85 million hl in 2003, against an average of 1.3 million hl for the two years either side.  2012 was a particularly small harvest owing to a cold winter, spring frosts, and a damp, hail-prone, summer.  Aside from vintage variation, longer term trends in wine production are taking place as a result of the loss of vineyard area.  These changes have significantly altered the wine production profile of the Beaujolais region.  So, for example in 2011, for the first time more Beaujolais Crus wine was produced than generic Beaujolais wine.

Beaujolais-wine-yieldsFor some wine commentators, the future of Beaujolais lies not with its well known (but arguably devalued) Beaujolais Nouveau, but with its10 Crus AOPs.  In this regard there has been much talk about the Crus producing concentrated wines from low yielding vines.  Yet the available statistics seem to tell a different story.  Over the period from 2002 to 2012, white wine production (which is tiny) has been produced, as would be expected, at significantly higher yields than for red wines. Meanwhile average yields for generic Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Crus have historically shown little difference and there have been a number of years (e.g. 2006-2009) when the average yields from Beaujolais Crus have been higher than those from generic Beaujolais!  The future of the Beaujolais wine region may turn out to be determined largely by quality-minded producers located within the Beaujolais Crus.  But isn’t it time to drop the simplistic association of yield and quality?

WineStats would like to thank Charles Rimbaud and his colleagues at Inter Beaujolais for providing the vineyard area and wine production data used in this article.

Evolution of Northern Spain’s D.O. Navarra Vineyard

The Autonomous Community of Navarra in northern Spain extends from just south of the Ebro River, northwards to the French border in the Pyranees.  Wine growing is restricted to the southern half of the Community and becomes more concentrated near to the Ebro. Vines are divided geographically into two Denominacións de Origen (D.O.), with approximately one third belonging to D.O. Rioja and approximately two thirds belonging to the contiguous D.O. Navarra.

Navarra-Vineyard-area-by-coWine growing in the region of D.O. Navarra dates back to Roman times and flourished in the Middle Ages.  Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago were both consumers and advocates of the wine, which became well known throughout northern Spain.  The vineyard had to be replanted in the early 20th century following the arrival of Phylloxera in 1892.  The new vineyards on American rootstocks were given over almost entirely to Garnacha, whereas the pre-Phylloxera vineyard is believed to have been much more diverse, though details are sketchy.

For most of the 20th century, the wine industry in Navarra was dominated by co-operatives who produced much bulk wine for export.  Garnacha Tinta with its drought tolerance and high yields, was largely treated as a workhorse grape.  In 1974, Garnacha Tinta made up 93% of the then 25,016 ha of vineyards.  Much of the fruit was vinified to produce rosé wines, destined to be drunk not long after production and often showing oxidised notes.  White cultivars then totalled 650 ha, roughly 2.5% of the D.O. Navarra vineyard.

Garnacha-vs-TempranilloSince 1990 the overall size of the D.O. Navarra vineyard has ebbed and flowed in response to economic factors.  In response to changing consumer taste, winemakers have shifted from Garnacha-based rosés to red table wines based on a broader grape palate.  To achieve this, many Garnacha vines have been removed and new cultivars, especially Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, introduced into the D.O. Navarra vineyard.   From 23,336 ha in 1974, to ca. 10,000 ha in 1995 to 2,632 ha in 2012, the removal of Garnacha has been ruthless and relentless.

Part of the transformation has been facilitated by the increasing availability of irrigation water which, in 2005, meant that for the first time more vineyard area was irrigated than dry farmed.  This has given farmers greater opportunity to plant non-Garnacha cultivars, as well as non-vine crops.

Navarra-Vineyard-ComparisonThe D.O. Navarra vineyard of 2012 is almost unrecognisable compared to how it was composed forty years previously.  Is this a good thing?  If you hold to the view that a region’s vineyard composition reflects centuries of experimentation by small farmers and gradual selection of cultivars to those most suitable to the available terroir, then this could be the stuff of nightmares.  Much of the work on determining suitable cultivars and clones has taken place in the last 25 years at La Estación de Viticultura y Enología de Navarra (EVENA).  There can be do denying that the region is now producing many excellent wines, especially full-bodied reds.  Navarra has reinvented itself and is now an exciting wine region producing wines in a variety of styles and at a range of price points.  Let’s hope that climate change does not scupper the ambitions of experimental viticulturalists and wine producers alike.

Oregon Wine Grape Vineyard Reaches 10,000 ha – 60% Pinot Noir

The Oregon Wine Board is the agency responsible for supporting and promoting the wine grape and wine industries in Oregon.  They also have a research and educational role and serve as a central depository for Oregon State wine industry statistics.

Oregon-vineyard-area-by-colThey have recently published the results of the 2012 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census (PDF), which on this occasion was compiled by the Southern Oregon University Research Center (SOURCE).  It itself includes a wealth of information but, when combined with previous Annual Vineyard Reports by the US National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), shows the extent of the industry’s growth over the past 30 years.

The total Oregon wine vineyard was estimated to be 10,306 ha in 2012 – the first time that Oregon has broken the ten thousand hectare mark.  This represents a significant jump from the reported figures for 2011 (8,262 ha).  The change is due not only to the planting of new vineyard, but to a change in the census approach taken by SOURCE compared to NASS, which probably now makes the census slightly more complete.  Until 1998 white cultivars occupied a greater share of the Oregon wine vineyard than black cultivars. The latter have continued to occupy an increasing proportion of the total vineyard since 1998 as the white vineyard area has shown only very slow growth.  In 2012 black cultivars made up 74% of the Oregon wine vineyard.

Oregon-major-varietalsThe expansion of the black grape section of the Oregon vineyard is almost entirely due to extra plantings of Pinot Noir.  Unlike Washington where a number of different cultivars each occupy a significant share of the total vineyard, here Pinot Noir (6,224 ha) alone makes up 60% of the total vineyard.  Other cultivars are very much overshadowed, with Pinot Gris (1,388 ha) being the next most planted, having taken the second place spot from Chardonnay in 2000.

To put the area of Oregon Pinot Noir in context, the total Pinot Noir in some other New World countries in 2012 was estimated as follows: Australia (4,767 ha), Chile (3,500 ha), New Zealand (5,388 ha).  Oregon’s Pinot powerhouse looks set to play an increasingly important role in supplying Pinotphiles, both in the US and overseas.

Ribeira Sacra Wine Region in Figures

Exports from Galicia’s stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra D.O. are tiny.  In 2012 they totaled only 299 hl (40,000 bottles), yet they’ve still managed to impress a number of critics on both sides of the Atlantic.  Sufficiently so for President Obama to be served a Peza do Rei 2011 at a recent Gala dinner.

Ribeira-Sacra-Location-mapHow has a wine region that seemed to be in serious decline not so very long ago been able to reinvent itself?  The answer  includes improvements to rural infrastructure and producers with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to quality.  The five page free to download PDF Ribeira Sacra in Figures tracks the region’s recent history through data compilations to help explain a part of the story.



Rueda Wine Region in Figures

Rueda is Spain’s leading D.O. producer of white wine.  Since 1970 it has been at the vanguard of introducing new technologies and approaches in order to reinvent itself.  The 6 page free downloadable PDF, Rueda in Figures summarizes the readily available data to help explain the Rueda story.

Vineyard Area, Production and Wine Yields in Chablis’ AOPs

Chablis is an isolated wine region of northern France, arguably the most northerly region in Europe producing high quality, still table wine.  World-famous for its production of food-friendly dry white wines from Chardonnay grapes, it should display mouth-watering acidity, restrained fruit flavours and so-called mineral characteristics.  The region is divided into four Appellations d’Origine Protégée (AOPs), based on the perceived quality of the land for growing and ripening Chardonnay.

Area-Growth-by-AoPThe area of vineyards in Chablis has expanded enormously since 1970.  Then there were only 757 ha in production, but over the next 40 years this increased almost seven-fold to reach 5,043 ha in 2010.  By 1995, Chablis Grand Cru and Chablis Premier Cru were both at, or close to, their maximum delimited areas.  Additional growth since then has been of the less well-regarded Chablis and Petit Chablis AOPs.  The Chablis AOP had a production area of 3,318 ha in 2010.  Since the maximum limit for the Chablis AOP, as designated by the INAO, is 4,420 ha, there is still room for considerable future growth.  Similarly, Petit Chablis’ 2010 vineyard area of 843 ha still has some way to go before the INAO limit of 1,562 ha is reached.

Production-Growth-by-AoPThe increasing amount of grapes being grown in Chablis has allowed producers to ramp-up wine production.  In the early 1970s, total Chablis wine production was ca. 20,000 to 40,000 hl.  By 2006-2010 wine production had climbed to between 270,000 to 290,000 hl.  Prior to 1970, genuine Chablis (as opposed to, say, Gallo’s “Chablis” from California) was available to only a limited number of wine drinkers.  Now Chablis AOP and Petit Chablis AOP wines are produced in sufficient quantities to make them widely available in a variety of domestic and export markets.

Yields-by-AOCIn addition to increases in vineyard area and production, wine yield (expressed as hl/ha) has also shown a long-term upwards trend before levelling off at between ca. 50-60 hl/ha over the past 25 years.  Year-on-year climatic variations certainly play a role in determining the harvest size and complicating this picture, though perhaps not quite so much as might have been anticipated.  Following a series of poor harvests in 1977, 1978 and 1981, the Chablis region had a pretty good run until the heatwave vintage of 2003.

Although wine yield is but one of many factors influencing wine quality, it is often cited by wine critics and educationalists as being a critical one.  You might expect that within the Chablis region, wine yields within the AOPs would be arranged such that Chablis Grands Cru AOP would have the lowest yield and Petit Chablis AOP the highest.  Over the past quarter century Chablis Grands Cru AOP has indeed had the lowest wine yield, but there has been precious little difference between the wine yields of the Pemier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis AOPs.  Are producers of Petit Chablis AOP over-performing, or is wine yield not so relevant here? WineStats hasn’t been to sufficient Chablis tastings to have a view on this one.

WineStats would like to thank Cécile Mathiaud and Virginie Valcauda of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) for kindly supplying some of the data used in this posting.