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Watch: Beaujolais Nouveau ready for release amid tension over US tariffs

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Watch: Beaujolais Nouveau ready for release amid tension over US tariffs
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Beaujolais Nouveau producers are getting ready to uncork this year's crop of France's most famous young wine.

Beaujolais, a region 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of Lyon, has spent decades marketing its wines globally. It now exports to more than 110 countries, according to statistics from Vinescence, which works with 310 winemakers in the area.

The wine has been released on the third Thursday in November, at 12.01am, since 1985, receiving an enthusiastic reception at street parties across the country.

Celebrations will be marred this year however by the recently introduced US tariffs, Brexit uncertainty and a drop in sales to the Hong Kong market amid unrest in the Asian city.

The Trump administration imposed a 25 per cent import tax on most French still wines last month as part of a trade spat with the European Union over illegal subsidies for the aircraft giant Airbus.

Orders had already been placed, and places on planes or boats reserved, for this year's Beaujolais Nouveau by the time the tariffs took effect.

Producers said they struck up arrangements to shoulder part of the cost themselves — and distribute most of the rest along the supply chain — in order to retain their American clientele.

Unfair competition

Meanwhile, the Japanese, who bought enormous amounts of Beaujolais a decade ago, seem to be losing their appetite for the wine, says the president of Beaujolais winemakers' association Dominique Piron.

Twelve years ago, French winemakers sold one bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau for every 12 inhabitants in Japan — a total of 12 million bottles per year, according to Piron. Now, Japan imports about half that number.

"Japan has lowered its taxes on imports but that doesn't mean they're buying more wine. China imports a lot of wine from Chile and Australia with no-tax deals between governments – that's unfair competition. Globally, wine production is in overproduction and there's a tighter funnel when it comes to sales."

Fifteen years ago, 4,000 producers made wine here; now, that number stands at 2,000, according to Piron, as big producers have acquired smaller operations and expanded their reach.

The Chasselay family, which has run vineyards north of Chatillon since the 15th century, has sought to buck that trend. Claire Chasselay says their philosophy centres around returning to winemaking's roots: small-scale, without pesticides, and focused on producing wine for mainly domestic consumers.

Living wage

But she insists that Beaujolais Nouveau producers should not be selling their wine cheaply.

"Today, if you really want to make a living we have to stop selling our wines at a low price. We have to sell it at the right price and a price that generates a living wage for the winegrower but also the wine merchant and the restaurant owner. The right price," she says.

The Chasselays decided two decades ago to stop spraying their vines with chemicals, pre-empting the preference for organic products that has gripped younger consumers in recent years and placed pressure on winemakers to adapt their growing techniques.

And although they exported 6,000 of the 22,500 bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau they sold this year, Chasselay prefers to see her wine on nearby shelves and tables.

Eight days before market day, she loaded one of the season's last orders into her van and drove it 17 kilometers to the wine shop and restaurant of Gaetan Vial in Charbonnières-les-Bains.

Swirling the light red around in his mouth, Vial pronounced it "top-notch."

"It has this fresh aftertaste that makes you want to pour yourself another glass. It has strength in taste and substance, so everything you need," Vial says. "Yet another good year."

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