French wine group Delaunay Vins et Domaines has touted the reliability of the US market as it seeks to grow its brands amid global economic uncertainty.
Speaking to Just Drinks last week, owner and co-founder Laurent Delaunay said he saw most potential in the US, which can better withstand headwinds and “recover much faster” than other major wine-consuming countries.
Delaunay Vins et Domaines produces 15m bottles of wine a year and exports to 55 countries, of which the US forms the largest portion of sales. Its other key markets include Canada, Holland, the UK, Australia and Germany, plus smaller sales in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Japan.
Last year the group grew its sales in the US, though saw a “small decrease” in Canada.
“The American market, which is already our main export market, is still where we see the most potential,” Delaunay said. “Because it’s vast, they have high standard of living and when you look at all the main wine markets in the world, it’s probably the one which is the most resilient.
“I mean, it’s the one which has always shown that even if they are going through hard times, recession, inflation and so on, they recover much faster than most of the other markets.”
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Delaunay said there was a particular thirst for French wine among US consumers, largely due to the romanticism associated with the country and its longstanding wine tradition.
“I think France still has very high image in the wine world, it’s probably one of our main assets,” he said. “If you work well, and if you use the French image in the right way, it’s a great advantage.
“Of course, it’s not the only one – I think the first one is to bring products that serve the consumers’ expectations and needs. It requires a lot of work in terms of marketing.”
As well as the US, Delaunay named Belgium, Germany and Switzerland as other countries “where we know we have much more potential than what we [sell] now”.
He added: “The current economic situation in the wine trade is a little difficult I must say. And it seems some markets are probably going to show a little bit more growth potential for the next few years [than others].”
It comes as the group last month relaunched under Delaunay’s family name and announced its co-owners’ daughter, Jeanne, had joined as a winemaker.
Delaunay Vins et Domaines has five key brands: Edouard Delaunay in Burgundy, Les Jamelles, Abbotts et Delaunay and La Belle Angele in the Languedoc, and distributor Domaines et Vins de Propriété (DVP). It also produces small amounts of wine in Beaujolais and the Rhône Valley.
Edouard Delaunay and La Belle Angele are its fastest-growing brands in the US – also its cheapest and most-expensive two brands.
While Delaunay said “we don’t do entry-level wines”, (Les Jamelles has an RRP of around $12 a bottle), he added: “With the difficult economic situation and inflation, it’s going to be both sides of the market which are doing the best and the middle is going to be struggling more.”
Delaunay’s approach to market growth is two-pronged, with equal focus on winemaking and marketing – he has degrees in both business and oenology. This, he said, is “the most important point of difference” between the group and its competitors.
“[Our strategy involves] a lot of work in terms of winemaking. We do a lot of benchmark tastings; in every market we go to the stores and spend some time in front of the shelves,” he explained. “We look at what the consumers are buying to give us an indication of what they like. We buy the wines and try to understand why they like it. [The reasons are] a mix – a label, brand, concept, region, style or wine profile.
“The other part is marketing. Understanding the expectations and proposing some wines which in terms of profile, labelling, packaging, concepts and so on, are going to be attractive for consumers. It works.
“It can work for the ‘varietal’ wine that would qualify as retro-modern, such as Les Jamelles. And it can work for something more traditional in Burgundy with Edouard Delaunay, which is more traditional because we’re coming from a more traditional region.”
Delaunay took over his family business in Burgundy at the age of 25, when his father became ill. “Very tough economic times” in the early 1990s hit demand for Burgundy wine hard, and he sold the brand along with the rights to his family name in 1993.
Laurent and his wife Catherine moved south and set up Badet Clément, initially a 100% Languedoc brand, in 1995. In 2005, they acquired Pays d’Oc-based Abbotts et Delaunay, which is now headed up by their daughter Jeanne. In 2017, they bought back Edouard Delaunay to “re-establish it in the world of the top Burgundy wine brands”.
Following the relaunch of Edouard Delaunay and Jeanne joining the business last June, Laurent said it became “obvious” he had to resurrect the Delaunay name and “resume the family tradition”.
“I am the fifth generation, Jeanne is going to be the sixth generation and we are back in this beautiful family tradition that happens very often in the wine world,” he said.
Last year, Delaunay Vins et Domaines’s brands collectively turned over €64m ($69.42m), which Laurent put largely down to his focus on branding.
“The secret, if there is one, and I don’t want to be pretentious, but the secret of Delaunay Vins et Domaines over the last 28 years is the fact that we’ve always put winemaking and marketing on the same level,” he said.Read Just Drinks' full interview with Laurent on rebranding his family business, the importance of marketing and why French wine is losing market share