France loses one in six wine estates over a decade

Every day, three French grape growers or winemakers decides to give up working as an independent enterprise. What are the implications for the industry?

The shrinking band of French independent viticulteurs and vignerons
The shrinking band of French independent viticulteurs and vignerons

Imagine seeing one restaurant in six disappear from your town. Or one in every six authors giving up their pens. Or one in six football teams hanging up their boots.

That is what has happened to France’s wine industry over the last decade. According to a Vitisphere report, the latest agricultural census reveals that where there were 70,000 wine estates in 2010, by 2020, that number had fallen to 59,000.

In other words, every eight hours, seven days a week, a domaine owner – usually a family – decides to stop working as an independent enterprise. Some of these bottle and distribute their own wine; most sell wine or grapes to a merchant or cooperative.

Average landholdings have grown to 19ha – three more than in 2020. In Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the administrative region that includes Bordeaux and AOPs such as Bergerac, Buzet, Côtes du Marmandais, Côtes de Duras, Madiran, Jurançon, Brulhois, Irouleguy, Pecharmant, as well as Cognac and IGP Atlantique, estates now cover 37ha, nine more than a decade earlier.

The reduction in the number of wine estates merely reflects trends affecting an entire French agricultural sector which, despite the annual launch of 14,000 independent farms, has lost 100,000 – 21% of the total – over the ten years. The economies of scale affect almost all farmers, along with challenges of distribution and staffing. Larger enterprises simply make more economic sense - apart from the rare exceptions that can charge premium prices for the limited-production fruits of their labour.

Today, one in four French farmers is aged over 60, five percent more than in 2020. While the percentage who are under 40 remains stable at 20 percent, this obviously remains a concern for a government that wants to see 20,000 new farms being set up per year.

The trend has clear long-term implications. Historically, many wine estates relied almost exclusively on family members to tend the vines. As they continue to expand, estates are increasingly going to need to employ workers who are not easy to recruit, or rely on automation. Agricultural futurists struggle to predict how many independent French grape farmers and wine producers there will be when the next census is conducted, let alone the one in 2050, but there is no doubt that the numbers will be a lot smaller than today, 59,000. And what is happening in France is echoed in other traditional European wine regions.

We will analyse the detailed regional breakdown when it is published next year.

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