This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.
We all know that French wine producers have been having a tough time and have been sorely in need of a bit of help in actively selling their products in a world awash with cleverly marketed New World alternatives. But who exactly has been capitalising on this opportunity to offer advice and expertise?
Step forward Jaime Araujo, a 37 year-old female American in Paris who set up a wine marketing company just three years ago and has since been swamped by business.
If the name rings a bell with wine lovers, it's because her parents own one of the Napa Valley's most admired cult Cabernet wineries on some particularly blessed land, including the famous Eisele vineyard, near Calistoga. I bumped into them in California in November, heard she was doing very well "telling the French what to do" and was intrigued that, according to her father Bart Araujo, "she won't tell me what she's up to."
Fortunately for someone as nosey as me, she was much less guarded about her consultancy business Terravina with me when I met her last month in a café on the Champs Elysées.
How on earth do French wine producers react to being told how to sell themselves by someone who is a) female and b) American? Jaime claims that "it actually goes down quite well because for them marketing is such a foreign idea anyway". I suppose it helps that the very word marketing has no alternative in French.
Her wine experience includes courses in Bordeaux, London and Davis in California, being assistant to James Cockram in London when he was head of Moët's operations and impressing him enough to be asked to write her own job description. She thereby ended up project managing the pan-European integration of the Moët and Veuve Clicquot subsidiaries of LVMH. Smoothing out the differences in logistics and cultures in various Swiss, Austrian, Spanish, French and Italian offices clearly gave her a lot more fun than it might many others.
A year at INSEAD followed and when she graduated in late 2004, a gap in the market was very obvious. "I realised there was a hole in the market for a wine marketing consultancy in Europe in general and France in particular. Wine marketing is well developed in the US and UK but hardly at all in France – apart from Champagne of course." She smiled knowingly at the temple to Louis Vuitton, with all its cross promotion of LVMH champagnes, overlooking our cafe. "Through INSEAD I was lucky enough to talk to the heads of Pernod, Bacardi, Allied-Domecq, and realised that they had sophisticated marketing departments for spirits but hardly anything for wine. I thought, if these guys with the biggest budgets have nothing, what the heck's going on elsewhere?"
She soon found out. Her work with smaller, mainly French, family wine companies has involved making them acknowledge and articulate exactly what they have to offer. "The problem with them usually is that it's all up here," she explained, finger tips to temples. "My job is to help them create their own brand universe, to realise what their key attributes are. And then there's market segmentation. They often they need a lot more focus, instead of selling to everyone however big or small. Everyone wants to sell to the UK and US but that's not necessarily right for every wine producer. Maybe they should revise their approach to the French market, and put systems in place to keep track of all those who buy direct from them. That's so simple but it's often overlooked.
"The idea was to start with France and eventually move into the rest of Europe but actually," she paused for one of her deep chuckles, "the export markets found me first." There are three or four other wine marketing specialists in France, but none with such an international perspective – although Araujo is quick to point out that she knows little about Asia.
Her first non French client was the California Wine Institute, which needed someone to deal with European media and outfits such as the giant fine wine store Lavinia in Paris, which has now completely revised its California selection. A current California project is helping spearhead film director Francis Ford Coppola's recently much-broadened wine range in Europe. Most of her business comes from word of mouth. This last project came via Coppola's new European export manager who was one of Araujo's students when she lectured students on Bordeaux University's wine MBA course.
Other significant women met via Bordeaux include the daughters of the world's most famous wine consultant Michel Rolland, who just happens to help Bart and Daphne Araujo blend their Napa Valley wines, thereby spawning their second label Altagracia. Marie, the younger Mlle Rolland, is one of Jaime Araujo's top graphic designers for work which has resulted, inter alia, in some fancy new labels, still in the wings, for Boizel champagne and with a local designer from the southern Rhône valley, a particularly successful new range of wines for the Cairanne co-operative.
"I was asked to come up with a plan for the Cave de Cairanne because they had been losing ground in the UK. One of the criticisms was the staid packaging. We ended up creating a whole new label and range, regaining the old clients and getting new ones."
Another new client is the World Wildlife Fund and their Cork Oak Landscapes programme. One possibility being some sort of certification which would encompass both the sustainability of the cork forests while increasing the quality of wine corks, minimising the incidence of the fatal (to wine) compound TCA.
At this point her father Bart, who had joined us by now, pricked up his ears. TCA is to a fine wine producer what bird flu is to a turkey farmer, only much, much more common.
I asked whether she had noticed any change in morale in the French wine industry recently. "The French are definitely more confident. At Vinexpo [the biennial international wine fair in Bordeaux last June] there was definitely a marked change with a lot more buyers in evidence.
"But I worry about two things. As the dollar gets weaker and weaker, the American market is going to suffer even more.
"And, if things continue to get better for French wine exporters, there's a danger that producers will then say 'See, we don't need to change'. France's huge problem is that it doesn't allow market forces to operate. If only we could use all that money spent on subsidies to revamp and improve the wine itself and how it's marketed."