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Revamped Vin De France Category Sees Big Opportunities In U.S.

November 4, 2013

While previous efforts at building big-volume French wine brands in the U.S. have faltered, a recent loosening of blending rules and a new marketing push for the pan-French Vin de France category have made producers bullish about growth prospects in the world’s biggest wine market.

Since 2009, the French government has allowed producers to blend grapes from different wine regions for brands under the Vin de France categorization, but until a U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau ruling late last year, Vin de France wines weren’t allowed to bear vintage years in the U.S., lessening their appeal. Even so, non-vintage offerings have been popping up in bag-in-box brands, with bulk shipments of Vin de France wine to the U.S. rising more than 400% to 7.3 million liters last year, while bottled shipments nearly tripled to 360,000 nine-liter cases. Now, with the TTB’s agreement to allow vintage-year labeling, the category’s opportunities in the bottled segment are set to further expand.

“Earlier (mass-market) brands like Red Bicyclette or Pinot Evil were constrained by the old blending rules, so they didn’t always have the flexibility to adapt the wines to the American palate,” says Bruno Kessler, president of the Anivin de France trade group, which is leading Vin de France’s new marketing campaign. “Now we have the tools to provide the wines consumers are looking for.” Also, those brands may have been a little ahead of their time, he adds, hitting the market in the years before the rise of the millennial generation that’s driving experimentation in the wine segment.

Among the producers targeting the U.S. with new Vin de France offerings, Sacha Lichine Selections has launched a white blend, a red blend and a rosé in the category (all $12.99 a 750-ml.); Les Grands Chais de France has introduced a Kiwi Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc ($8.99) and J.P. Chenet Reserve Pinot Noir ($11.99); and Val d’Orbieu is offering Brise de France Muscat and So Parisian Cabernet Sauvignon (both $9.99).

Another newcomer is Patisserie, produced by Badet Clement & Co. and including a Chardonnay-Muscat and a Grenache-Syrah-Merlot at $9.99. “Initially we’re focusing on large retail chains,” says Laurent Delaunay, president of Badet Clement & Co. “But I’m convinced there’s also an opportunity in by-the-glass.”

Globally, Vin de France wines now account for around 400 million liters and comprise a quarter of all French wine exports. “When we started in 2009, we got together and settled on a target of 100 million liters for the first year,” says Kessler. “We ended up with 120 million.” If the new U.S. push is successful and the wine market’s growth continues at its current pace, Anivin de France envisions the potential to add another 100 million liters in the U.S. alone in the coming years.

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