Bordeaux targets mid-market in export drive

CIVB chief welcomes Vinexpo’s strategic direction and outlines ambitious plans to grow Bordeaux’s presence in the US and China

The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (aka the CIVB) represents the winegrowers, wine merchants and brokers of the iconic Bordeaux region. With a multifaceted strategy focused on marketing Bordeaux wines internationally, developing insights about the consumption of those wines, and staying ahead of the curve on technical issues related to production, it is a key partner for Vinexpo. Here we talk to CIVB President Allan Sichel, who also runs wine merchant and wine-maker Maison Sichel, about Bordeaux’s international strategy and his thoughts on this week’s event and related announcements.

How did you find this year’s more compact ‘human-sized’ Vinexpo Bordeaux?

Actually I have been delighted with this edition of Vinexpo Bordeaux. It has been comfortable and pleasant with high quality conversations. Talking to colleagues, the feedback I am getting is that they spent a lot of time with people on their stands and had time to extend the number of wines buyers tasted. For Sichel specifically, we were very busy on Monday and Tuesday – then again on Wednesday afternoon. And we spoke to a lot of Brits, which is good because that is a key market for us.


How did you feel about the addition of the symposium (and related events)?

Again, if you asked my brothers (who work with me at Maison Sichel), they would say their priority is selling wine. But with my CIVB hat on, I loved the symposium and masterclasses. They were all clearly set out and could accommodate high volumes of people. Events like these increase the diversity of Vinexpo and raise its profile, it brings in expertise and specialist knowledge, and encourages sharing of information – which is an important part of Vinexpo.

We also heard that Vinexpo Paris and Wine Paris have formed an alliance.

That’s a good move, a sensible move. It is crucial that we don’t go down the direction of adding more and more events because it just gets too much. As an exhibitor, we want to engage via concentrated and purposeful events.

Tell us about the direction of Bordeaux’s marketing strategy.

There was a big shortfall in the harvest volume in 2017 that is still affecting us today. We lost positions in some markets and we know it will take time to regain them. But more generally we have a clear strategy to position Bordeaux in the mid-segment. Our market research shows that consumers who don’t drink Bordeaux have two objections – that it is too expensive and too complicated. So our whole mission is to address those points. We are known all over the world for our Grand Cru, but we believe Bordeaux can deliver high quality at an intermediate price range of (in Europe) 5-15 Euros.


What makes you think there is a market in that price-range?

80% of wine drinking opportunities in the world are served by wines sold at less than €5 a bottle. Bordeaux can’t match that category, so the focus for us has to be more on the finesse and balance that our wines are known for. Of course, they have to be fruity because that is what the consumer is expecting, but Bordeaux’s identity offers the depth that people are increasingly looking for.

We think this position fits well with trends in all the major wine markets, where consumption per head is reducing but drinkers are becoming more choosy. Take France as an example – people are now drinking an average of 45 litres a year, compared to 120 litres 40 years ago. But they are drinking better wine and not choosing the same product day in day out.

Bordeaux is perceived by some as ‘too traditional’. What is the reality?

There is a lot of innovation both from desire and by necessity. We are fully- engaged in addressing climate change but it takes a long time and a lot of experiments carried out over several years. We have to assess different weather patterns and vintages, vinify, see how wines age… it all takes a long time.

In parallel, there is a generation of young professionals who are not just wine makers, but also have a good perception of what the market wants. They went to university, travelled, have friends who love wines, they understand that the modern consumer is more eclectic. They might like wines from all over the world – with Bordeaux just one selection. I think this generation will really help Bordeaux engage with wine consumers in the way they demand.

What are your priorities geographically?

We have seven major markets and two extra priority markets – the US and China. China accounts for 25% of our exports. As for the US, there is a drinking culture but consumption is just 9 litres per head. So there is potential for great growth in the US and Bordeaux wants a share of that.

What about the situation with the UK and Brexit?

It was a shock at rst, but I’m becoming quite comfortable with it. We saw lots of Brits on our stand this week and no one is too worried. We realise we are going down that route and because we export all around the world we know we will be able to comply with any customs regime or paperwork.

Have changes in ownership had any impact on the Bordeaux business?

There has always been a mix of scenarios. There are a lot of companies that are run on a family basis, but also interest from external investors – from the UK, Germany, US, Belgium and, more recently, China. They usually invest in vineyards and Châteaux but also sometimes in négociants, because they have seen how strong the distribution side of the business can be.

There is some concentration in ownership, which means the average property size is growing (though the total vineyard coverage is constant). There are still around 6,000 growers in Bordeaux with an average size of under 20 ha, which means Bordeaux still has an artisan feel to it. But some concentration has a benefit in terms of professionalisation, because it is hard for a small 3-4 ha business to employ the consultants and technicians they need to innovate.

Vinexpo CEO Rodolphe Lameyse is targeting wine tourism as a potential area of growth. How does that chime with your thoughts in Bordeaux?

That is absolutely an area we are interested in, and something that will be a focus in November when we host the next meeting of the Great Wine Capitals global network here. Bordeaux used to be a long way back in wine tourism, but is expanding rapidly now. We see it as an important element in bringing consumers closer to the way the product is made. It comes back to my point about changing the perception of Bordeaux. Wine tourism means people can meet young growers who are so keen and dedicated and focused on sustainability. That personal contact makes a wine much more meaningful.

Another big investment on this front is Bordeaux’s Cité du Vin initiative. If we can get tourists to visit the city, then they learn about wine culture and maybe then head out to the Château – not necessarily on the same trip; but it could give them a taste for it and they might like to nd out more about Bordeaux wine.

Finally, are there any new developments at Maison Sichel?

Maison Sichel was founded in 1883 as a négociant (wine merchant) but now also has products from its own vineyards, Palmer, Angludet, Trillol and Argadens. We sell our wines and those from other estates to more than 50 countries via a distribution network that has over 70 sales representatives in France and abroad. A recent development is something we have brought back. Négociants used to market wines under their own name but that practice went away as Château brands became stronger. But we are reviving this approach by selling some wine under the Sichel brand, including our flagship Sirius.

Photo: Allan Sichel President, CIVB