[Interview] Bernard Farges: “after this crisis, the wine industry will bounce back”

March 20, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is taking its toll on the entire planet, and the wine industry hasn't been spared. This is another hard hit for the Bordeaux wine region, which was already on unsteady ground. Interview with Bernard Farges, President of the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB).

Bernard Farges, as President of the CIVB and as a citizen, how do you feel about the quarantine and lockdown measures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has inevitably had an impact on the entire wine industry?
It is our duty as citizens to ensure the safety of our loved ones, and our employees when we are business owners. As for the wine industry, the government has identified it as a key agricultural activity that must be maintained. For many industrial jobs working remotely is not possible. We work with living organisms, whether that be plants or animals, therefore, confinement is not really an option. We will remain ready and prepared for when this crisis comes to an end. In the meantime, the wine industry must remain active despite the current circumstances.

What measures has the CIVB introduced or recommended to wine professionals, particularly regarding vineyard operations?
At this time of the year, some winegrowers are finishing off pruning and there is still winter work to be done (removing prunings, training the canes on the wires) but this can be performed while maintaining safe distances. In the coming days and weeks, we are going to start bud thinning, especially since the vines are growing faster than anticipated. For this operation we shall ensure safe distances are respected. In the cellar, certain jobs will be harder to adapt. The current safety conditions have significantly slowed down packaging and distribution activities. Subsequently, for the moment, all employees are present, but cellar activities are more difficult, and staff working in the offices are working from home when possible. On Tuesday afternoon, following the President of the Republic's statement, we sent out instructions to the entire industry to provide useful information (regarding health, practical information, administrative tasks, taxes, etc.) and to enable everyone to get organised. Everyone wants to know what impact this will have on wine activities. We have also taken a close look at how the Italian wine industry is coping, since they are a few weeks ahead of us, and we have observed that agricultural production is continuing, as is transport, in very secure conditions. It is essential to share reliable information to ensure the whole industry is aware of both the way work shall be organised from now on and the rules implemented by public health institutions. Needless to say, we are monitoring the situation's developments very closely.

The pandemic is another stroke of bad luck for the wine industry. What message would you like to send out as President of the CIVB?
Our first priority is respecting the safety of others, we may continue to work, but we are ensuring this happens in the safest possible conditions. In broader terms, the Bordeaux wine market is clearly at a standstill, but we are not the only region affected by this and wine production is not the only sector concerned. Tourism and restaurants have also taken a hard hit, which will have repercussions on wine consumption. We were already lacking momentum, and the current situation hasn't helped. Nevertheless, we produce a storable, non-perishable item; while this will not save us completely, it does mean we need to be extremely proactive when the situation starts to improve. We are starting to witness a mild recovery of the Asian market, it's early days but this should give us hope. We need to prepare to start shipments, since everything is linked. This crisis will have a harsh impact on many countries and companies. While certain financial support systems are being implemented, the current circumstances will leave a lasting mark. This situation will force us to rethink many things in our society. Our generation has never experienced anything like this before, and we cannot simply compare it to the wars our elders endured. We need consumption to get back on track. It is likely that when the pandemic is behind us, we will all want to fully embrace returning to normal living conditions, to enjoy our free time, our friends and loved ones. The economy will pick up and our industry must seize this opportunity to bounce back, while taking into account all the necessary moderation measures.

One major turn of events was the suspension of En Primeur week, what impact will this have on the Bordeaux wine industry?
I believe that the En Primeur tastings, and subsequent sales, are less time-sensitive. If they are presented in several weeks or months, they may be less "primeur" but the tasting will be just as interesting for professionals, especially as the 2019 vintage looks set to be outstanding. The time for this tasting will come. For now, the wines are in the cellars, continuing to age, and the sales will start later on. I have absolutely no doubt that these wines will sell extremely well. In the meantime, we need to focus on the priorities, especially the work of medical teams for whom every minute is precious. It is, therefore, necessary to put things into perspective and remain focused on what is most important.

 

Interview by Mathieu Doumenge Terre de Vins

Find the original article in French here

Photo credits : Terre de vins