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Chablis Sees Robust Rebound In U.S. After Recessionary Dip

April 1, 2013

France’s Chablis region saw its wine exports to the U.S. drop significantly in the worst years of the economic downturn, but by the end of 2012 it had regained that lost volume and more, eclipsing its pre-recession high-water mark in U.S. sales.

In 2007, Chablis exported a then record-high 1.5 million bottles (around 125,000 cases) to the U.S. market, but just two years later—as the recession’s effects on fine dining and luxury purchasing in general took their toll—its presence had slipped to 900,000 bottles. Since 2009’s low point, however, Chablis has nearly doubled in size in the U.S. In 2012, it reached nearly 1.6 million bottles on annual growth of 14%.

“Prior to the crisis, importers in the U.S. would reserve 3,000 or 4,000 cases at a time,” says Christian Moreau, whose namesake brand is handled by Frederick Wildman & Sons. “Since then they’ve kept much less inventory on hand, requesting 200 cases here and there. That was a big adjustment. But consumer demand is now back. The restaurants are full again.”

While it remains a relatively small-volume category in the context of the 325-million-case U.S. wine market, Chablis’ upscale positioning gives it an outsized share of the value pie. The U.S. ranks fifth among Chablis’ export markets by volume but third by value, owing to a bigger presence for its premier cru and grand cru tiers, which generally retail from $35-$38 and $70-$90 a bottle respectively. Together, premier cru and grand cru Chablis account for around 25% of the region’s U.S. export volume—and more than one-third of value—while the lower-priced AOC Chablis ($18-$23) and Petit Chablis (below $18) levels comprise the remaining 75%.

Jean-François Bordet, head of Domaine Seguinot-Bordet and president of the Chablis Wine Board, says the category is poised to benefit from the U.S. market’s trend toward unoaked wines, one of Chablis’ trademarks. “The fresh, crisp, unoaked style is very popular in the U.S. right now, and that’s exactly the profile of Chablis,” he says.

 

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