Tips for Breaking into the French Wine Industry

Along with freshly baked croissants and world-renowned artists, France is famous for its wine. Here are some tips for breaking into the French Wine Industry

Along with freshly baked croissants and world-renowned artists, France is famous for its wine. Production of the sweet beverage is so prolific, in fact, that France ranks near the top of the global list of wine-producing regions, behind only Italy.

According to historians, early French winemakers even learned their techniques from Italians, as far back as 425 B.C. The French wine industry quickly broke free from its Italian roots, establishing its own culture that would eventually become world famous. But behind that culture is more than just an ideal climate for grape production and wine-making knowledge spanning millennia — the French wine industry is also bolstered by savvy business practices.

And from Bordeaux to Champagne, Burgundy, and beyond, wine is an economic powerhouse in France. French wine export sales hit a new record in 2017, reports Reuters, bringing in €12.91 billion. Whether you’re a recent French expat or have lived in the country for an extended time, you too can break into the wine industry. However, there are a few factors to take into consideration, many of which are specific to French culture, tradition, and business regulations.

The Interesting History of French Wineries

While wine has been an integral part of French culture for millennia, the industry itself has a strong connection to the mid-1800s. It was emperor Napoleon III, in fact, who helped develop the modern classification system for French wines. The wine classification system was further developed in the 1930s and remains largely consistent today.

Known as the appellation d’origine côntrollee (AOC), it helps ensure that food and wine products that come from specific regions are protected from fraud and meet certain quality standards. Travel experts note that “each type of French wine is attributed to the region the grapes were grown and fermented in, connecting regional identities and appellations.” Burgundy grapes, for instance, must be certified as coming from that specific region, and vary considerably from those cultivated in Lyon, considered the gastronomic capital of France.

There’s even a term used to describe the speciality of a place when it comes to wine: terroir. The term encompasses all aspects of a particular region in which a wine variety is produced, including climate, weather, and soil type. But in recent years, the climate in French wine-growing regions have been changing, transforming the industry as a whole. Warmer global temperatures are causing French grapes to mature faster, equating earlier harvests. Within the wine industry, an early harvest equates a wine production timetable that vastly differs from the traditional model. Modern wine producers must remain aware of how climate change can affect all aspects of the industry.

Regarding Location and Storage Facilities

Wine production is most common in central France, which enjoys a temperate climate. The eastern coastal regions including Burgundy and Champagne, however, have a continental climate that consists of cold winters and hot summers. The climate is a major factor in French grape production, and the annual harvest typically begins in late September, before frost hits.

As early as 2016, French officials predicted that climate change was likely to affect wine production into the future. Three years later, we’re seeing those effects firsthand. Harvest is beginning to regularly occur an average of two weeks earlier than usual, and National Geographic even claims that climate change is altering the taste of French wines. The impact of climate change is so severe that the national constitution was altered in 2019, requiring French companies to consider the “social and environmental stakes of their activities.”

Thus, to help preserve the flavour and consistency of wine, and comply with French law, having a climate-controlled storage structure is more important than ever. Prior to bottling, French wine is traditionally stored and aged in oak barrels, and keeping air out of the barrels is imperative in order to keep the flavour consistent. Once the wine is safely enclosed in barrels, it must be stored in an environment that ensures aesthetic appeal while maintaining proper structural compliance with local regulations. The good news is that you may be able to design a structure that suits your needs, such as a multipurpose building that houses both a wine storage area and a separate tasting room.

Business Considerations Within the French Wine Industry

Successful wine production means that you must be strategic about inventory control, as well as location and storage facilities. No matter the scale of your French wine operation, there are three primary inventory management metrics you should keep a watchful eye on. On a continual basis, monitor your inventory levels, inventory turnover, and cycle time.

Turnover in the wine industry will be largely dependent on the season and the success of your ageing process. When it comes to wine, patience is key, and you can’t rush the process without compromising quality. So if your inventory is low, it’s in your best interest to emphasize efficiency in terms of cycle time, to ensure satisfied return customers.

The French wine industry is highly competitive and requires extensive knowledge of the popular spirit. Casual wine drinkers may want to look elsewhere for business opportunities in France. But if you’re ready to dive into wine production, make sure you understand the nuances of grape production and have an adequate storage facility in place. Finally, adhere to sustainable business practices that may help reduce the impact of climate change in France and throughout the world.


Guest Post by Dan Matthews