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Total French Wine Exports on Slide

The value of French wine and spirit exports slipped 0.3 per cent in 2008 after sales tumbled in the last three months of the year, a group representing the sector said Wednesday.

France exported €9.31-billion ($11.7-billion U.S.) worth of wine last year, said Claude de Jouvencel, the head of the French Federation of Wine and Spirits Exporters.

Though the world export market held out surprisingly well and was just under the record-breaking result of about €9.4-billion in 2007, Mr. de Jouvencel said the outlook for 2009 is murky.

“It will be a difficult year, without a doubt,” Mr. de Jouvencel told journalists at a news conference.

While exports of Champagne and wines from Burgundy slipped, exports of table wines and Bordeaux were up — mainly on sales of the critically acclaimed 2005 vintage, which went on sale in early 2008, the group said.

The United States remains the No. 1 importer of French wines and spirits by value, though the market declined by 12.8 per cent to €1.73 billion. Mr. de Jouvencel blamed the economic crisis and also the weak dollar for the decline.

Spirits, including high-end cognacs that have been top sellers in the U.S. in past years, were particularly hard-hit, declining 16.3 per cent from 2007. The value of wine sales fell by nearly 10 per cent.

Still, the average price-per-litre of French wines consumed in the U.S. continued to rise, despite the crisis. For 2008, it stood at €7.01 per litre, up €0.05 from 2007. The average price-per-litre of wine sold throughout the world was €3.69 in 2008.

The value of sales in Britain, the No. 2 market for French wine and spirits exports, fell by 2.7 per cent to €1.52 billion.

Another key market, China, grew 4.3 per cent in 2008 to €257-million, making it the No. 11 importer of French wines and spirits. Mr. de Jouvencel said the value of the Chinese market has soared more than eight-fold since 2003, but he was reserved about sales this year given the expected slowdown in the Asian giant’s growth.

Exports of Champagne faltered due to the global financial crisis and were down by 6.3 to 6.4 per cent in 2008. Champagne labels that had raised their prices in 2007 were particularly hit by the slowdown in export sales, said Ghislain de Montgolfier, president of a group representing Champagne houses. He said makers were looking at lowering prices to respond to the financial crisis.

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Tuesday, October 17, 8:27 pm

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