Chamarre did French wine a favour

Chamarre did French wine a favour

Chamarré wine was the poster-boy for France's fightback on the world wine stage, so what does its financial collapse mean for the country's wine sector?

Chamarré collapsed into administration at the end of last week, a little over four years since the wine group was heralded as the new face of French wine on international markets.

In 2005, France was facing a period of crisis, after a bumper harvest in 2004 coincided with the country losing the number one spot in its largest export market - the UK - to Australia. There were reports of desperation among small-time winemakers in southern France.

Common consensus had it that the French had missed the boat on wine styles being lapped up by foreign consumers and that, anyway, marketing was somehow a foreign word to the nation that made Champagne the global celebration drink. It was a dirty 'anglo-saxon' word, too.

Into this mix came Chamarré, which was to use its namesake brand - and emphasis on grape varietals - to reinvigorate the French challenge overseas.

Beyond the walls of the elite Bordeaux Chateaux and the splendour of Burgundy, mainstream French wine faced an image crisis. Should wineries stick to the 'terroir' message or should they mimick the New World in planting well-known varietals and produce jazzy labels with quirky critters on the front. 

Of course, the answer was that both have their place in the market, but that France certainly had work to do on simplifying its offering and building the sort of brands that could spearhead the sector's revival.

Chamarré made all the right noises, wooed the UK press, and was backed by some good co-operatives - among them, Languedoc-Roussillon's Val d'Orbieu. Its early brand penetration in the UK in particular was impressive and it's worth noting that the company doubled net sales to EUR4.8m (US$5.8m) in 2007, which are the latest figures available.

However, while final accounts for the group have yet to be published, we know that net losses deepened in 2007 to EUR4.3m, from EUR2.5m in 2006.

Questions linger, then, over Chamarré's business model, financial management and the extent of backing from stakeholders when economic waters got rough.

That said, the group has played an important part in the necessary repositioning of France's wine offering to the world over the last few years. Whatever happens from here on in for Chamarré, the sector should be thankful for the part the group has played thus far.