[Article #6] Corsican wine growers show a united front in Paris

Par Gabrielle Vizzavona

Interest is keen and Corsican winegrowers are more motivated - and cohesive - than ever before. Collective efforts rolled out over the last twenty years have secured recognition for the quality of the wines; their unique charm stemming from the way growers have taken ownership of their endemic heritage grape varieties; and the high proportion of certified organic vineyards, which is three times higher than the average in mainland France. Opinion-leaders – sommeliers, journalists and buyers – have already endorsed the wines, though greater engagement with the general public is still required. “When you see that half the restaurants in New York have a Corsican wine on their list, just like the top Parisian restaurants, you realise how far we have come," enthuses Patrimonio winegrower Henri Orenga de Gaffory. The 110 winegrowers and 4 co-operative wineries on the “Isle of Beauty” (who produce 14.3 million bottles a year) have harnessed team power for success. The close-knit spirit among all the relevant stakeholders, who speak with a common voice to promote the island's vineyards, is at the root of their success. “Team spirit goes back a very long way. It's been 40 years since winegrowers decided to unite in order to exist. The industry realised that collective endeavours would allow us to grow”, recounts Caroline Franchi, communications director for the Corsican wine marketing board CIV. This strong community spirit combines with absolute freedom of expression. In addition to the local mindset, several avenues have been explored to develop the wine industry. Re-introducing ancient grape varieties has given the island’s wines back their original flavour. In addition to the four main grape varieties (Nielluciu, Vermentinu, Sciaccarellu and Muscat à petits grains) used in the island’s 9 appellations, there are about thirty endemic grape varieties. “We are the oldest New World producer because our heirloom grape varieties allow us to take a very exotic approach, but at the same time our terroir connection is very French”, comments Nicolas Stromboni, owner of the largest wine store in Corsica, “Le Chemin des Vignobles” in Ajaccio. He adds: “We were cut off from our history for 100 years. When there is such a break with tradition, it gives you the right to venture into unchartered territory”. Freed from the shackles of conventions, Corsican winegrowers have adopted different types of vessels for winemaking and ageing, running the gamut in terms of formats and materials, to experiment with different wine profiles. Organic winegrowing is also a major focus. In mainland France, 8% of vineyards are certified organic, which pales in comparison with Corsica’s 21% and 80% certification in the Patrimonio appellation area. Efforts to ramp up quality have been commensurate with the drive by Corsica’s wine marketing board to get the message out about the island’s amazingly creative winegrowing. Involvement in collective events such as the Concours Général Agricole competition, Vinexpo and Wine Paris for a couple of decades is reaping rewards and putting the island’s vineyards firmly on the map. “Our products are outstanding and convey a positive image. People are there to demonstrate the quality of the wines”, stresses Henri Orenga de Gaffory. Promotion at local, national and international level has set the tempo for development. Exports of Corsican wines increased by 21% in 2018 and they are now shipped to 63 countries, spearheaded by Germany, Belgium and the United States. Their success has become a role model for the island: “When the Corsicans talk about success, they point to the wine industry”, concludes Henri Orenga De Gaffory.