In this month's Just the Answer, Christian Delpeuch, president of the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux), discusses how Bordeaux is tackling over-production and innovating to compete more effectively in today's wine market, notably with the development a completely new regional wine, Vin de Pays de L'Aquitaine.

J-D: How is the Bordeaux wine industry shaping up after the 2005 harvest?

Delpeuch: I would have to say that 75% of the region is performing very well, while 25% needs a bit more work. These poorly performing areas need to adapt their wines better to the market. The winemakers all have very high technical standards, but they need to develop these in order to feed these changes through. The main idea is to have vineyards that adapt to make better wines, or they fundamentally change the way they're making the wines. I think the future for Bordeaux is to create a good Vin de Pays - Vin de Pays de l'Aquitaine. This will lead to the region producing less AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) wine, while providing a good alternative to ripping up vines.

J-D: How are the plans for the Vin de Pays progressing?

Delpeuch: We would look to producing the Vin de Pays all the way along the Atlantic coast. Our plan is currently on track, so with state approval, we should look to start producing the wine with vintage 2006. Today, we have an imbalance between supply and demand, so what we want to do is give the winemakers a choice between AOC and the Vin de Pays. That would be an independent choice for each winemaker, who will choose the amount of their land to be given over to Vin de Pays. We basically want less Bordeaux wine on the market.

J-D: What legislation requirements do you need for this to go through?

Delpeuch: The national wine governing body in France (Onivin) needs to accept the proposed changes. After that, then it would take about six months for it to be written into law. That would give us big volumes that we can start investing in. I want the concept of AOC to be directly linked to the terroir, while the Vin de Pays is not linked to the soil. Big, consistent qualities will be the hallmark of this Vin de Pays, giving us a level playing field with our competitors. Inside Bordeaux, there is majority support for this move.

J-D: This year saw the first time that AOC wines from Bordeaux went for distillation. How did this situation come about?

Delpeuch: Let me first say that, with 200,000 hectolitres of AOC wine going for distillation, the producers found it very hard to accept this situation. They've never had to carry so much stock before. It certainly shouldn't happen again next year, as we have limited the yields, thereby making the harvest much smaller. Normally, we produce an average of between 6.5m and 7m hectolitres per harvest. This year, we project the harvest to come in under 6m hectolitres.

Christian Delpeuch

You can't really blame anyone directly. We've had an exceptional period of prosperity from 1970 to 1999, so we've simply planted more vines. In 2000, when things started to change, we still had these high production levels. Supply, therefore, has far outstripped demand. Bear in mind, though, that it takes six years for new plantings to impact on production. This is an industry that is very difficult to change quickly. So now, we're trying to stop the machine. We basically want to get rid of the lowest quality wines from the region.

J-D: What image are you trying to portray for Bordeaux wines?

Delpeuch: Bordeaux's terroir has so much history behind it. All the other winemaking countries are trying to use our terroir. We have to take advantage of these tough times to get rid of those wines that aren't good enough to be called Bordeaux. Then we will start pushing the Bordeaux brand much harder.

The Vin de Pays will be a good wine, which will be well-priced and strongly marketed. The wine market in general is perfectly placed to take a Vin de Pays from Bordeaux.

J-D: What is your opinion on the recent EU/US wine agreement?

Delpeuch: I think the problem here is that France and Europe weren't in control of the negotiations. It was twisted from the beginning. On the one hand, you had a huge country that is going to be the major wine importer for the next five years while on the other hand, you have a very fragmented Europe. If we hadn't come to an agreement, then the US would have imposed terrible constraints on our imports into the US - either way, we could not win. The final agreement can be signed, I feel, so long as it is not forever, and we can re-negotiate in three years' time. Europe just wasn't in a position to negotiate.

J-D: How does Bordeaux plan to maintain a competitive edge going forward?

Delpeuch: We have nothing to worry about when it comes to the quality and variety of our wines. If we can clear the over-production and get rid of the lower quality wines, then we can start to focus on the other challenges - namely to simplify the message we communicate to customers. While we will keep our appellation, we have also begun putting the varietals on the labels, for example. We're often seen as being arrogant, but I feel that it's more a case of us being self-conscious.

In the short-term, it's going to be painful for Bordeaux's producers, but I'm very confident about the medium- and long-term future. The greatest varietals in the world are not only from France, they're also from Bordeaux! We've been a bit stupid in the past: our competitors are emphasising them, and we haven't been. The mentality is starting to change in Bordeaux, however.