Logistics Threaten Wine's Covid Rebound

Covid and the Suez blockage are still impacting on global business – including the wine trade.
© DHL | Covid and the Suez blockage are still impacting on global business – including the wine trade.
We round up another week's worth of wine news so you don't have to search for it.
By Oliver Styles | Posted Sunday, 04-Jul-2021

It has been another busy week in the world wine, with new threats, new opportunities and new wine regions emerging.

Global logistics threatens Covid rebound

The feel-good stories continue to trickle out as parts of the world begin to see light at the end of the Covid tunnel. However, while numerous sectors and markets are already showing signs of an upsurge in sales and demand, the effects of Covid on global shipping and logistics are showing no signs of going away.

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Paul-Fran?ois Vranken, head of Champagne house Vranken-Pommery Monopole, touched on the issue this week in an interview with French stock-exchange news site, La Lettre de la Bourse. While Vranken admitted "2020 was a tough year for Champagne" with an 18 percent reduction in sales volume, the overall message was positive. Vranken pointed out that initial estimates had a forecast of 40 percent loss of demand and that "Champagne is a wine for celebration and [its sales have] a strong ability to bounce back". Even the potential harm of Brexit was downplayed, with the UK's exit from the European Union having "no impact" on sales.

However, global shipping logistics remains a serious issue. "Like other businesses," Vranken said, "our issues overseas are logistical. We have to deal with a lack of containers which is disrupting shipping."

The current global shipping crisis is due to Covid. One analysis by the ANZ bank in April said the shipping industry was "in catch-up mode" and that it "really only has enough capacity to keep up with demand when everything is running smoothly". It highlighted delayed ships in ports, lack of labor and a break in the circulation of empty containers, all due to the impact of Covid. And not just Covid:

"Unpredictable events, as experienced with the Suez Canal blockage, or now the Yantian [the port supplying Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong] Covid crisis, are unfortunately likely to further compound the situation for the months ahead. And rippling effects will last for months," said a recent state-of-the-industry report from global freight forwarder Hillebrand. 

Valen?ay boasts new fresco for Tour de France

Ah, the Tour de France. "The Tour is a national showcase, it has been a long time since it came through the Indre [department]," Benjamin Rabier, head of the young farmers of Boischaut Nord (in the central Loire) told news outlet France3 this week. "This is an opportunity to make a point. It was not easy to do something eye-catching."

Cue a 33-meter long "fresco" daubed on silage wrap in a field adjacent to stage six of the Tour de France route, held on Thursday. Featuring a bottle of wine, a bunch of grapes, a cow's head, a block of cheese, a chicken, a wheat sheaf and a pair of crossed pitch forks, the canvas was pinned to the field by pastel-colored silage bails.

No sign of it on our watching of the highlights, but the region is home to the cheese and wine of Valençay. Certainly the natural décor got some people thinking.

"Great to have a quiet stage where you can concentrate on la France profonde," someone called James Davison wrote into the Guardian's as-it-happened blog of the stage. "This is an area I know pretty well and I can think of nowhere I’d rather be right now, with a glass of red to toast the peloton as it passed.”

"The same for me, James," said Guardian writer John Brewin. "I miss being able to go to the French campagne, even though everything is always closed when I do go."

Washington gains fifth AVA in a year

Situated within – and at the very eastern tip of – the Yakima Valley, Goose Gap was announced this week as Washington state's newest American Viticultural Area (AVA). The region “takes its name from a saddle of land known as Goose Gap, which was named because it was a flyway for geese between rivers, providing hunters with an exceptional site for hunting,” said Alan Busacca PhD, who wrote the AVA petition.

At the very eastern end of the Yakima Valley, Goose Gap lies to the northeast of Horse Heaven Hills and to the southeast of the Red Mountain AVA. Goose Gap also lies southwest of both the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers and the relatively new Candy Mountain AVA (unveiled in September 2020). “Goose Gap and the adjoining Goose Mountain, which is also within the AVA, create a rough triangle that traces the geography between Candy Mountain, Red Mountain and Badger Mountain,” said Busacca.

Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards & Winery is currently the only winery located within the AVA.

Goose Gap joins a raft of newer AVAs coming out of the state, including the aforementioned Candy Mountain, announced last year along with the Royal Slope AVA, just south of the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. The Burn of Columbia Valley AVA (on the northern banks of the Columbia River, between Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Gorge) and the White Bluffs AVA (on the eastern bank of the Columbia River, southeast of Wahluke Slope and north of Tri-Cities) were established in June this year.

Sommelier launches wine book and you are the hero

In the Forgotten Kingdom, the end of the world is nigh and the wine has gone bad. Not the title of Alice Fiering's latest work, but the premise of sommelier Fabrizio Bucella's new book: à la Recherche du Vin Perdu (In Search of Lost Wine). Despite the Proustian title, the book is one of those in which you, the reader, are the hero.

Currently only available in French, you must go on a quest ("halfway between Monty Python [and the Holy Grail] and Les Visiteurs" according to French broadsheet Le Figaro): to find the famous grimoire, or book of spells, which contains the recipe to making good wine; to restore balance to the Forgotten Lands; and bring back good wine to the people.

Although clearly lifted from Michel Rolland's to-do list, the plot offers winelovers an "unprecedented experience in oenological literature: an epic and playful adventure where you will have to make choices, solve puzzles, play with fates and walk through dangerous labyrinths", according to publishers Dunod. 

"A game-book to read alone or with friends, around a good bottle, to learn while having fun – and have fun while learning," added the publishing blurb. Those wanting to skip the adventure and get their hands on the grimoire itself can acquire Ribéreau-Gayon et al.'s two-volume Handbook of Enology for about 25 times the price (à la Recherche du Vin Perdu is on sale in France at €16.90).

Piedmont announces €5.8 million vineyard restructure handouts

Local authorities in the northern Italian wine region of Piedmont have put out the call to winegrowers in the region that €5.8m in funds have been unlocked for "restructuring and conversion" of vineyards in the area. The money, from the EU's Common Market Organisation coffers, is available as part of a wider EU drive to improve the overall standing of member states' wines regions.

In the case of Piedmont, the move will enable viticulturists to engage in replanting efforts and varietal conversions in the vineyard, as well as the more mundane, but no less vital, process of replacing vineyard posts, straining and training wires.   

Submissions can be made by most viticultural enterprises, from individual local growers to cooperatives and corporations. The deadline for submissions is 15 July 2021.

Alsace vineyard moves to kegs

In a bid to lower its carbon footprint Alsatian winery Jean Huttard has begun kegging a portion of its production and installed a refill station at the domain. Hélène Huttard told news outlet Le Parisien "we found 60 percent of our carbon footprint was in glass, labels and corks."

The domain now uses 30L "ecofass" recycled plastic kegs which are part of a circulatory system which seems them collected, cleaned and reused once empty. "It's very popular with [on-trade] professionals in concert halls [as well as] festival organizers and restaurant owners," Huttard said. "When you order a wine by the glass in a restaurant, few check to see whether or not it comes from a bottle."

According to the report, the kegs can hold the wine intact for up to two years if undisturbed. The move is part of a wider global shift toward more ecologically friendly wine packaging and Huttard has also installed a wine refill station at her family domain, based in Zellenberg, 15km (nine miles) north of Colmar. Locals are asked to purchase a €7 (plus €2 deposit) glass flip-top bottle for the purpose.

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