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La France sans corks? Mais oui!

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And this just in: The online editions of several British newspapers, including the Independent, are reporting that French wineries are “dropping the traditional cork for the New World screw top.” Not only that, the paper is naming names: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Château Margaux.

Now, it would be one thing if some modest little vin ordinaire screwtopped his bottles. But the DRC and Margaux! Sacre bleu!

Romanée-Conti wouldn’t comment to the Independent reporter, and when I called their exclusive American importer, Wilson Daniels, a spokesperson told me that they hadn’t heard anything about it. But in the online reports, Chateau Margaux’s director general, Paul Pontallier, was quoted as saying, “It’s true, we’ve been doing tests for the past four or five years. But it’s too early to say whether we will use them, as our wines are made to be kept.”

If the DRC does go over to screwtops, they won’t be the first Burgundy winery to do so, and with a Grand Cru. Jean-Claude Boisset recently bottled their 2005 Chambertin in screwtops, and the winery is slated to have 1/3 of its annual production of 200,000 bottles in the twist-off caps.

(Well, I guess if The Gav — San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson, as he’s affectionately known here — could bottle PlumpJack in screwtops, Margaux and the DRC can.)

I was thinking about all this when another report came in: That France is about to lose its status as the world’s top wine producer to Spain by 2015. This is according to a study that compared France’s declining wine production numbers to Spain’s soaring production, and came to the inevitable conclusion. The report also detailed that French wine exports are losing market share not only in traditional European markets but also in the U.S., China and Japan.

Add to all this the recent riots by French winemakers, who are upset over falling domestic consumption, rising foreign competition at home and abroad and overproduction. A few weeks ago, vintners in the Languedoc-Rousillon burned police cars and vandalized supermarkets during protests to demand government aid. (Tom Wark reported on this in his Fermentation blog.

French vintners are clearly nervous, and they have a right to be. Les temps, ils sont changent in the world’s most famous wine nation, as they are everywhere, but France seems to be feeling the pinch harder than anyplace else.

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