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Little cheer for Beaujolais Nouveau as U.S. tariffs guzzle profits

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By Reuters
Little cheer for Beaujolais Nouveau as U.S. tariffs guzzle profits
FILE PHOTO: A bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau wine is pictured in a bistrot in Paris, France, November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier   -   Copyright  BENOIT TESSIER(Reuters)

By Cecile Mantovani

LYON, France (Reuters) – Beaujolais Nouveau wine lovers made merry as this year’s first bottles were uncorked, but producers faced the sobering truth of a dip in margins due to new tariffs imposed by the United States, their second biggest export market.

Barrels of this season’s vintage, a red made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region, were rolled through the streets of Lyon in a traditional torchlit procession.

As the clock struck midnight on the third Thursday of November, bottles were popped open for late-night drinkers wearing “I Heart Beaujolais” T-shirts.

This year’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day celebrations come a month after the U.S. imposed a 25% tax on French wine and other EU goods in response to illegal EU aircraft subsidies.

“This is going to be a hard blow, we will need to work hard to bounce back,” said Jean-Baptiste Duperray a producer of the popular young wine, fermented for just a few weeks before hitting shelves around the world.

U.S. Beaujolais lovers will see little impact on their wallets, with prices remaining between $10 to $15 per bottle as dealers dug into their own pockets to hold prices steady, David Ratignier, vice-president of the Inter Beaujolais Association, said.

“This is what has enabled us to maintain our volumes, to maintain the Beaujolais Nouveau’s release in the United States. So we can say it’s gone pretty well after all,” he said.

The U.S. is the second largest export market for the light-coloured red, with 13,337 hectolitres shipped in 2018, accounting for more than 15% of total exports and almost 8% of production.

In Japan, the top importer of Beaujolais Nouveau, men and women in straw hats, swimming shorts and bikini tops, and their children in floaters, soaked themselves in a “wine bath” that matched the colour of the vintage to mark its 2019 launch.

Beaujolais Nouveau winemakers said they had little choice but to absorb U.S. President Donald Trump’s additional tariff, monitor sales and hope it was short-lived.

“We realised (U.S. policy) can change in a morning with a simple tweet from Mr Trump. If Trump changes his mind overnight, everything will be ok,” Ratignier said.

(Reporting by Cecile Mantovani in Lyon and Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris, Editing by Gayle Issa)