• UK buyers on Costières de Nîmes’ potential in premium market 

    If you asked 100 people in the wine trade if they have heard of Costières de Nîmes then the chances are the vast majority, if not all, would say they have. But if you then gave them a pin and asked them to place it somewhere in the AOC of Costières de Nîmes on a map of France that number might fall considerably. How many could then go and tell you what styles of wine the area is famous for? Those were some of the questions up for debate in the latest The Buyer panel session with leading buyers, importers and wine merchants who had the opportunity to come together, taste wines that best represent Costières de Nîmes and assess what opportunities there are for these Rhône Valley wines in the UK.  

    If you asked 100 people in the wine trade if they have heard of Costières de Nîmes then the chances are the vast majority, if not all, would say they have. But if you then gave them a pin and asked them to place it somewhere in the AOC of Costières de Nîmes on a map of France that number might fall considerably. How many could then go and tell you what styles of wine the area is famous for? Those were some of the questions up for debate in the latest The Buyer panel session with leading buyers, importers and wine merchants who had the opportunity to come together, taste wines that best represent Costières de Nîmes and assess what opportunities there are for these Rhône Valley wines in the UK.  

    mm By November 21, 2022

    Our thanks go to our panel of UK buyers, importers and merchants and for AOC of Costières de Nîmes for making this event happen.

    Costières de Nîmes has a lot going for it. It has 2,000 years of ancient history to be proud of, with the first vines dating back to 600BC, and was such a favourite of the Romans – thanks to their settlement in Nîmes – that it was apparently the preferred wine of the Popes of the time. 

    It has had AOC status since 1986 and it is situated right at the foot of the south of France, with all the influence the Mediterranean sea, and its cool breezes, can throw at it. 

    Costières de Nîmes is the southern most appellation in the Rhône Valley

    Crucially it now makes a wide range of great value wines, across red (around 50% of production), white (7%) and rosé (43%), that punch above their weight at all the main price points. It’s slowly but steadily becoming an important and distinct part of the wider Rhône Valley, particularly as nearly two thirds of its vineyards can claim to be “environmentally friendly” – of which 32% have HVE accreditation, 19% are certified organic, 8% are being converted and 3% are biodynamic.

    It sits within the border of the Languedoc and Provence and above the low sandy plain of the Camargue delta – which now has protected natural biodiversity status – and shares the same mix of round pebbles that you find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 

    The UK is a key part of its future strategy. Of its current total production -158, 433 hl –  41% is exported around the world (26,875hl), of which 24% goes to the UK (6,450hl), its largest market.

    The UK perspective 

    It is therefore very interested to know what leading UK wine buyers think of its wines. Which is why the region’s generic body teamed up with The Buyer to host an open trade debate, followed by a masterclass with Rhône wine expert, Matt Walls, to assess how well the AOC is recognised and appreciated in the UK and what work it needs to do to get more wines listed in such a competitive market.  

    The panel included:

    The panel of UK buyers and representatives from Costières de Nîmes producers took part in the debate

    Representing Costières de Nîmes was:

    • Michel Gassier, co-president of Costières de Nîmes and owner and winemaker at Domaine Gassier.
    • Anthony Taylor, communications director of Gabriel Meffre .

    Colin Thorne kicked the debate off by saying the door was very much open at Vagabond for producers from an AOC as diverse and interesting as the Costières de Nîmes.

    “We have a small and every changing range so there is always something going on. We are always interested in finding wines that our people on the floor can get excited about and sell to our customers,” he said.

    Doug Wregg said the Rhône Valley as a whole was very important to Les Cave de Pyrene and it currently works with around 30 producers from the region. 

    “We are looking for wines and that are true to the terroir where they come from. So we love the northern Rhône and its granite soils and the Syrah it produces from there. There is not much better value for wine available in France that you can find in the Southern Rhône. The quality is incomparable at €3 to €4 a bottle. They over deliver on quality. So the Costières de Nîmes is really important to us and what it can offer,” he explained. 

    Corney & Barrow’s Margaux Carpentier said she thinks the AOC has got good potential in the premium on-trade

    The Rhône as a whole is also very important to Corney & Barrow, particularly amongst its private customers, but it is probably the better known AOCs such as Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas “where the demand is steadier than for Costières de Nîmes”, said Margaux Carpentier.

    It is more in the premium on-trade where C&B has had more success with Costières de Nîmes, she added, where “people are looking for fresher and affordable styles”.

    Authentic region 

    Matt Walls said the reason why he was particularly drawn to the Rhône as a region to write about and specialise in was he “just fell in love with the people and the place”. “It’s the most authentic wine region. If you go to Bordeaux there is more marketing and PR going on. If you are in the Rhône and go out to see a producer then you will be meeting the family behind it. They are the ones working in the vineyards and in the cellars. There is that real authenticity there that you don’t always get elsewhere.”

    That’s what really resonates with Vagabond and its customers, added Thorne. “That is the number one way we sell a particular region of wine. Through its people and the stories they can tell. So when people taste the wines they are not just looking at the wine, but the story behind it. It has to be about the people and how they work the land. That’s what makes the connection with the consumer.”

    Walls said you have to consider the Rhône as being two regions in one with very clear differences between the north and the south, with all the “satellite” AOCs around them. “The north and south have their own very unique personalities.” 

    But that is also an issue that Costières de Nîmes has to address, warned Heather Dougherty. Just what sort of image does it have with the trade and the wider wine buying public? 

    “From an educational point of view it has a low profile and gets squeezed out of the conversation compared to the other bigger, more well known areas in the Rhône Valley,” she added. “Costières de Nimes is in danger of being betwixt and between. It does not fit into the Rhône hierarchy. So where does it sit?”

    The maritime influence thanks to Costières de Nîmes’ proximity to the sea helps bring freshness to the wines

    She added: “It’s hard to know how to pitch it to consumers and it’s sometimes hard to find examples to show them as well. Technically it is in the Rhône, but it also bleeds into other areas as well. I have some unease about that. Then you have the whole Provence influence as well and a blend of identities in the same area. It’s hard to pin down.”

    Michel Gassier said it was fascinating to get the UK buyers’ perspectives which pretty much tallies with what he has also experienced working in the UK market. 

    The challenge he and his fellow producers have is adding more layers and knowledge to the average buyer’s understanding of what Costières de Nîmes can offer. Particularly the significance the maritime influence has on the grapes and the wines it can make. 

    “We are effectively working in our own micro climate. We are the southern most appellation with vines going round to the sea,” he added. “Only by going there do you fully appreciate how important the proximity to the sea is. It gives the wines their quality, their unusual freshness.”

    Unique personality 

    Michel Gassier, co-president of Costières de Nîmes and owner and winemaker at Domaine Gassier was able to share his views on the AOC.

    The AOC, though, should do more to talk about the personality of the region and in particular the Camargue and the sub culture that has emerged around it with every village boasting its own bull ring, said Gassier. “It’’s not like Provence or the rest of the Rhône. It has its own strong image that we need to get across.”

    “That is the personality I am talking about,” added Walls. “Camargue is completely different to anywhere else in France, with its white horses and black bulls and pink flamingoes and blue cactus. It would be really helpful if we could get all that into the minds of the consumer. But when you say Costières de Nîmes people don’t associate all of that with it.”

    Anthony Taylor said there is so much going on in the region that it is hard to sum up in a simple sentence. “It is evolving all the time. You can never say you know everything there is to know about it. We are learning from our terroir all the time. We are now identifying specific climate areas, working out how to rein in the alcohol and doing out best to take Costières de Nîmes in the right direction.”

    Doug Wregg says Les Cave de Pryene works with a number of producers from across Costières de Nîmes

    Wregg said the challenge for any importer should be to “look for balance” in any wine they look to bring in. That is what gives Costières de Nîmes its edge. “It has the potential for balance. That’s the beauty of having free draining soils combined with the power of the Mistral wind.” 

    He said he was also excited to see what is being done in the AOC to blend wines and bring varieties together. “It shows a versatility and a scope to try different things.”

    Gassier said it was encouraging to hear as there has been a lot of work done in the region to better understand which varieties do best in different areas. Again the sea has a lot to answer for. 

    “In the morning we get dews and fogs coming in and it means we get a lot of hydric stress in our vines and the grapes keep their acids better. That is the big difference in the southern Rhône. You can see it particularly in our whites which have such nice acidity. And then again in our reds and our Syrahs. That’s our real point of difference.” 

    Taylor also admitted more work needs to be done with some buyers to get them away from looking at the Costières de Nîmes as a source for big volume, cheap wine which is what it did provide in the past.

    “We need to raise the bar, and that has to be about developing more of its own identity,” he added.

    “But how do you do that?” asked Walls. “Do you develop your own Cru system?”

    Dougherty was not so sure. “It’s not well known as it is so adding more names is not going to help.”

    She pointed to the Ventoux as a region that has done well to elevate its wines and push its own identity and said much of that has been down to the work of Individual producers and negotiants like Perrin, that can offer some familiarity to consumers.

    Taylor agreed and said the region would “benefit from having more of the high quality brands in the Rhône coming into Nîmes”. But there lies a problem with its history and the fact that when it made its switch to the Rhône, the big Languedoc negotiants waved goodbye and the Rhône negotiants said “we don’t need you”. 

    “We were stuck on our own and had to find our own markets for our wine. We have one of the highest percentages in France where wines are being sold directly by producers. The big Rhône negotiants don’t sell a lot of our wines. We have to take the future into our own hands.”

    Wregg said the region should really make the most of its ancient past and let people know that the Greeks and Romans used to live and make wine there. “It’s not just a snapshot of the last 30 years, but centuries of history. That’s important for people to know,” he said. “I agree with Colin. Its through people that you can really make a connection. Those stories need to be told if it is to develop its own identity and bring that into the wine.”

    “It’s also a story about the weather, and about climate change, and its proximity to the sea,” he added. “It’s why the red wines might have high alcohol levels but are still have a wonderful freshness to them.” 

    Tasting wines 

    Matt Walls also hosted a wider trade tasting of a wide selection of Costières de Nîmes wines after the trade panel

    Then there is the rosé factor, the fastest growing part of the AOC with over 40% production, with the all too fashionable lighter, paler styles to the fore, but crucially with more texture and backbone to them. 

    “People can’t get enough of rosé and here it is half the price of Provence, and such great value,” added Wregg. “They are definitely not a Provence-style rosé,” stressed Taylor. 

    “People drink with their eyes when it comes to rosé and it is good to see the quality in these pale rosés,” said Dougherty.  “They are much better value than Provence.” 

    Gassier said there were still hopes to push the volumes of white wines up too and that there was more planting going on of key varietals, particularly Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. “Our whites are still trying to find their place. But we think there is two and a half times more potential for our white wines. We are making around 11,000 hl at the moment a year and there is the potential to take that to 30,000 hl quite quickly. There is more of a sense of place with our whites as well.”

    Carpentier can certainly see the potential in the white wines shown during the debate and again it is the freshness that shines through. 

    Wregg believes there is a potential market for the region’s white wines and there is demand for wines that “are good at channelling terroir, with good mouth feel and really show off the varietal”. 

    He calls them the “not so obvious wines” that you “don’t get bored of” and “are really balanced with the alcohol”. 

    Carpentier said they also very much satisfy the consumer’s new found thirst to try out new wines from different regions. “There is a great opportunity here. The cost of wine from deep sea locations makes the EU very attractive at the moment as well.”

    Walls said he likes how the wines really give you a sense of what the Costières de Nîmes can do as an appellation and the fact they are making wines that are very different from Gigondas or Vacqueyras.

    Taylor believes that really comes across in the Syrahs you get across Costières de Nîmes. “There is an expression of Syrah that is unique to the Nimes. It’s a ripe, slightly smoky character that comes through. They are totally salivating and have more flesh and ripeness and a special mouth feel.”

    “It really depends on the kind of story you want to tell with your wines,” added Gassier.

    “They are very approachable,” said Carpentier. “They are also very food friendly and have delicate tannins and very accessible.”

    “They are also nice young which makes them commercially interesting,” added Wregg.

    Rise in organics 

    Michel Gassier says there has been a “paradigm shift” in how winemakers now look after their vines and soils and organic winemaking

    Organic and environmental farming is a key focus for Costières de Nîmes – again helped by the weather. 

    Gassier said a lot of the younger winemakers in the region have travelled the world doing vintages in different countries and are coming back with new ideas. 

    “They have new ways of doing things and want to take farming practices in a different direction. My own daughter has come back to the farm and she wants to introduce regenerative farming practices. I must admit I had not heard of it before. But we can make a big difference with it.”

    He added: “There has been a paradigm change in how we operate. It is the new future of farming. We can regenerate our soils by taking more carbon from the air and putting it back into the soils. It is better for us and for the environment. It enhances our sense of place.”

    “The climate is ideal for organic winemaking, particularly with the Mistral,” added Wregg and big drops in temperature at night having a cooling impact on the vines in the key growing periods. 

    Carpentier said the organic movement was another good story to tell and for the appellation to really make the most of. 

    “It has this rich history, and now has this new generation of winemakers that are reviving the soils and going organic. It is a family story as well. All of which are good hooks for us to sell the wines to the consumer,” she said.

    Packaging and branding 

    New packaging from Gabriel Meffre for its rosé range

    The issue of packaging is also a key part of the debate for producers in Costières de Nîmes, said Gassier. Particularly as more and more of the big supermarkets and major monopolies around the world place an even bigger focus on alternative packaging and lighter glass bottles. 

    “There is a huge geo political shift around packaging as well. Consumption will no doubt change dramatically over the next few years. The younger generation does not want to drink like the older generation has. Eighty per cent of our volume is now in lighter glass bottles.” 

    Taylor added: “Packaging is a major concern today. It is the question that is on the table every day. Everyone is looking at each other and watching what they do. Quality wine has to find a way to succeed in new packaging. Governments and monopolies and in Scandinavia and Canal are imposing packaging guidelines on us. So we have to respond.”

    When it comes to identity the panel said more could be done to represent and showcase the region’s unique characteristics on its labels. As they are they all look pretty standard, said Thorne. “Packaging and labels has a huge part to play. The wines we have seen today are a bit anonymous. You need labels that really stand out.”

    Walls added: ‘There is nothing to suggest they are all from the same region.”

    Wregg agreed: “For a young wine region they need to stand out more and have their own unique identity.”

    The panel said they would all welcome the opportunity to go and visit the region and explore and discover what it has to offer for themselves and if more funds could be made available to invest in more trade trips.

    “You also have to do it over a prolonged period,” said Dougherty. “It is though a challenge to get that solidarity between producers to work together.”

    Only by going to the region can you really appreciate just how this is the only maritime influenced appellation in the Rhône Valley, says Walls.

    He even has a great catchline for Costières de NîmesRhône Sur Mer. The appellation by the sea.

    Wines tasted during the debate/ masterclass

    Château Grand Escalion – Amoureuse 2021, rosé, Maison Gabriel Meffre. RRP €14. Grenache 80%, Mourvedre 17% and Syrah 3%. 

    Château Mourgues du Grès 2021, rosé RRP €9. Syrah 50%, Grenache Noir 40%, Mourvèdre 10%. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. 

    Domaine Gassier, Nostre Pais 2020, red, RRP €15. Grenache Blanc 65%, Clairette 20%, Viognier 7.5%, Roussanne 7.50%. Imported by Waud Wine Club.

    Mas des Bressades, Excellence 2021, white, Roussanne 70%, Viognier 30%. Imported by The Wine Society. 

    Château Beaubois, Elegance 2021, white, RRP €11. Viognier 60%, Roussanne 40%. Imported by Cave-in Hertford. 

    Château Mourgues du Grès, Galets Dorés 2021, white. RRP €9. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Vermentino. Imported by Les Caves de Pyene.  

    Domaine de Poulvarel, Le Grès 2020, red RRP €7.5. Syrah 70%, Grenache Noir 30%. Imported by Pierre Hourlier Wines. 

    Château de Nages, Héritage 2020, red. RRP €14.50. Grenache 70%, Mourvedre 15%, Syrah 15%. Imported by The Wine Beagle.

    Château Beaubois, Elegance 2020, red RRP €11. Syrah 80%, Grenache Noir 20%. Imported by Cavavin Hertford. 

    Château l’Ermite d’Auzan, Saint-Cécile 2020, red RRP €12. Mourvedre 45%, Syrah 45%, Grenache 10%. Imported by Boutinot. 

    Château l’Ermite d’Auzan, Epicure 2020, red, RRP €16. Mourvedre 100%. Imported by Boutinot. 

    Domaine Gassier, Nostre Pais 2020, red, RRP €15. Grenache Noir 60%, Mourvedre 20%, Syrah 15%, Carignan 5%. Imported by Waud Wine Club. 


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