Festivities surrounding the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release will be subdued this year as the region’s wine growers struggle to balance the books, with many facing bankruptcy.
The 2012 growing season was marred by bad weather, compounding producers’ financial difficulties and hundreds could go out of business.
This year alone, 800 Beaujolais wine growers have already applied for financial aid from the government. And the situation is set to get worse. Estimates circulating in the industry suggest that approximately 300 of the region’s 2,300 producers could go bankrupt because of the poor harvest. Some put the figure as high as 500.
“Vineyards are technically at the early stages of bankruptcy, that is they have cash flow problems,” said Jean Bourjade, head of the industry association, Inter-Beaujolais. However, he described the high figures as alarmist, claiming that around 100 growers might be hit – fewer than the rumors predict.
On the eve of the annual Beaujolais Nouveau launch, Bourjade praised the perseverance and determination of the region’s growers, some of whom are not drawing salaries while they wait for better days.
“The low harvest has hit them again, just as we were starting to see the end of the tunnel,” he said
The wine region has been fighting for several years against the poor image of its Nouveau wines as well as falling sales, which have resulted in few young winemakers moving into the area.
Around 3,000 hectares of vines have been uprooted in Beaujolais in the past six years, in a bid to reduce overproduction and provide a decent return to growers. But the 2012 season devastated the region’s vineyards, cutting yields in half.
“We’ve seen it all this year: frost, hail, vine diseases like mildew. I’m 55 and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Daniell Bulliat, chairman of the Beaujolais Nouveau festival in Beaujeu, which traditionally marks the start of the new wine’s sales campaign on the third Thursday of November.
“It’s difficult at the moment but we have to carry on. The image of our product is festivity and conviviality. The festival won’t stop because some quit the business,” Bulliat added.
“The problems are not being ignored, but the festival is an anti-depressant.”