Passing on vineyards and wineries
It must be difficult to set up a winemaking business from scratch…
In a number of ways yes! Financially, there can be some support. For instance, when a young farmer sets up in business, he/she can apply for a Young Farmer Grant to finance his/her investments.
This grant may be increased when the young person setting up does not come from a winegrowing family or if his/her business plan respects agroecology principles, for example, by signing up to a “Plan de Compétitivité et d’Adaptation d’Exploitation Agricole” (farm competitiveness and adaptation plan) to prevent the use of weedkillers. A bigger grant may also be obtained if the business plan creates added value and employment.
I know that there are a lot of Cooperatives in Côtes du Rhône; anything that do to help?
In fact it is their DNA to promote sharing and cooperation. Specifically, several of them have indeed introduced specific grants:
- Maison Sinnae in Laudun supports all winegrowers wishing to expand or take over a vineyard holding. The young farmers grant comes in the form of an advance of cultivation costs of up to €2,500 per hectare. This grant is renewable for 5 years. For all the others, the grant is identical but capped at 35% of the initial surface area and renewable on request for 3 years.
- Vignerons Propriétaires Associés (VPA), a group created by the merger of several Gard cooperative wineries, grants a zero interest loan to young winegrowers wishing to set up, financing up to 25% of the purchase value with a ceiling of €50,000.
A sector that is attracting more and more women
The winegrowing and winemaking world is still very male-dominated. How true is this in the Côtes du Rhône vineyard?
It is fair to say, that as elsewhere, women here probably still have to prove their worth everyday… but more and more women are managing vineyard holdings and occupying positions of authority.
Many women are involved in local syndicates and associations, and working in the vineyards, making wines and selling them with great success, paving the way for others.
In 2019, women represented half of all sommeliers and a third of all vineyard managers and oenologists. These are women from different backgrounds who have sometimes worked in another profession before embarking on the winegrowing and winemaking adventure. They have formed an association, “Femmes Vignes Rhône”, with the aim of promoting the female winemaking profession in a spirit of openness.
Preservation of the landscapes and the vineyards’ built heritage
The purpose of the charter, backed by the Côtes du Rhône Syndicate, is the preservation and promotion of the terroirs, local traditions and know-how, as well as the products derived from them. The landscapes shaped by the winemakers are a testament to sustainable growing. Their beauty draws visitors to the region where they discover the local plant heritage and biodiversity.
OK, I get the theory… but can you make it concrete for me?
The restoration of the low stone walls separating the vineyard plots or holding up the iconic terraces, as well as the bories, capitelles, mazets or cabanons once used as shelters for the winegrowers or for simply storing tools, are all part of a rich winegrowing history.
The Syndicate keeps its members regularly informed of the financial aids available for the protection of the landscape, the environment and the restoration of local heritage.
In Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes, an association for the preservation of the local heritage, supported by the two cooperative wineries, successfully embarked on this preservation process five years ago. The great care and attention paid by the winemakers to their work tool, the land and the landscapes, are part of an ancestral know-how that each generation reinvents and passes on to the next.
The Institut Rhodanien: the technical foundation on which the future is being built.
On 5 March, 2021, Inter Rhône, the Syndicat Général des Producteurs des Côtes du Rhône (Côtes du Rhône General Producers' Union) and the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin (French Institute of Vine and Wine) finalised the creation of the Institut Rhodanien company.
According to Philippe PELLATON, the Institut Rhodanien’s President: "Societal expectations with regards to environmental issues in the vineyards, the necessary emphasis on low-residue wines, the work on the continuous adaptation of our red wines to market requirements and the clear definition of the profiles of the white and rosé wines, are all areas that need to be urgently addressed and in which we need to support our wine producers. It is becoming vitally important that technology constitute the foundation of the interprofessional strategy in order to establish the economic and communication directions for the Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley AOCs.”
So this is the Research & Development department for the vineyard, right?
It sure is. This unique organisation has set itself the following objectives:
- To be a leading technical organisation within the Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley wine regions
- To provide a tangible response to the major challenges facing the wine industry
- To build a centre of competence and technical expertise serving the wine producers and the Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley AOCs
- To develop and manage the R&D programme of the regional AOC sector and the interprofession
- To have all the Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley players (technical and R&D) come together and work together on the sector’s projects
- To create scientific and technical partnerships
- And to ensure the communication and transfer of knowledge to support the transition of practices in the regions.
The young generation: outward-looking and often inspired by international work experience
That must really be an eye opener… what do they bring back from these trips?
Let’s take the example of Jean-Etienne Alary who flew off to New Zealand when he was just 22 years old. His destination was Michael Seresin’s estate in the Marlborough region with 100 hectares of vines created from scratch and cultivated biodynamically. Jean-Etienne returned to Cairanne for the harvest with his father Denis, before flying off again, this time to Henschke in the Eden Valley in South Australia where they still grow some pre-Phylloxera Syrahs.
“When I arrived in New Zealand I didn’t speak a word of English and I found myself on a mixed farming estate that operated completely autonomously. The preparations were crafted from their plants and their horn dung came from their own cows. They are perfectionists who are very committed to the quality of the product. It was a total immersion for me, I learned the language and shared their wine culture. In Australia, Henschke has the same grape varieties as we do (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), but in a more arid region that may well be a foretaste of things to come here with global warming. It is a cutting-edge estate. From these work experiences, I have learned that excellent wines are being made in the southern hemisphere. These wines are different from ours, vinified according to processes that we do not necessarily use, but which have opened my mind. It was certainly a very enriching experience for me personally”.
From his time abroad, Jean-Etienne has also learned that there are no general rules and that you can try anything when you are motivated by the desire to excel in your profession. “I’m the 11th generation of a family of winemakers and the experience I have acquired abroad has given me a wealth of knowledge that I can use every day in the management of the domaine”.
Making our AOCs known and appreciated
What about promotion to ensure the business is sustainable?
This is one of Inter Rhône’s* missions indeed: promoting the AOCs in France and international markets.
When it comes to the general public, Inter Rhône strives to promote the specific characteristics of the Rhone Valley AOCs, the work carried out by the winemakers and négociants, and to educate consumers about informed and responsible drinking.
In terms of the Trade (wine store managers, restaurateurs, importers, sommeliers), Inter Rhône’s main objective is to improve their knowledge of the wine region and encourage them to want to explore it in ever greater detail in order to meet their customers’ requirements.
In short, one of Inter Rhône’s missions is to pass on the keys to learning and communicating about the know-how and heritage of the Rhône wine region to as many people as possible.
*Inter Rhône is the professional association or wine board for the Rhône Valley Wines AOCs. It brings together the winegrowers and négociants from the 31 AOCs.