The Rhone wine region is focused on engaging on a “deeper level” with the UK off-trade for 2020, according to a senior spokesperson.

Caroline Vigneron, head of trade and marketing for the UK at Inter Rhône, told DRN: “We have been actively engaging with independent wine merchants and have seen the number of outlets [that we now have a good relationship with] almost double in the last ten years. This is a key area for us and we hope to make further inroads this year.”

Vigneron said the region had seen “a notable increase” in volume sales recently for white Cotes du Rhone wines in independents and supermarkets.

She said: “We believe this has been partially driven by an increasingly positive response and frequent recommendations from the industry.

“This has also had an influence on consumers who have been prepared to explore slightly higher price points when selecting wine. While the overall trend in the UK is for lower volumes, we are noticing consumers in the off-trade are spending wisely, less quantity perhaps but opting for a more premium choice than they had previously.”

The UK’s off-trade recognises that Cotes du Rhone wines provide good value for money, Vigneron said, and she added that this is especially true around the £10 mark.

She said: “This is reflected again in the high awareness (around 84%) of Cotes du Rhone wines among the connoisseur and engaged drinkers’ segment. In addition, our research would suggest that these consumers have a tendency to remain faithful to Cotes du Rhone once they are familiar with it – with a high conversion rate of 38%.

“This year, we are again very much focused on engaging on a deeper level with the off-trade – showcasing our accessibility as a region through further engagement with influential parties within our core groups.”

Vigneron’s comments follow last year’s news that 2019 looks set to be “an outstanding year” for Rhone Valley wines.

Michel Chapoutier, president of Inter-Rhône, said: “2019 has been challenging in terms of climate, but has delivered a great vintage. The quality of our wines, their terroir-expressive character and the excellent image they enjoy give us good reason to look to the future with optimism.”

Winegrowers from the region said individual berries were smaller than usual this year but the Rhone Valley’s 2019 harvest in general are not far off the 10-year average.

After 2018’s very wet spring, 2019 was much drier, with lower-than-usual rainfall recorded every month. Groundwater reserves, coupled with mild weather earlier in the year, encouraged the fruit to develop well and vineyards delivered a crop of “impeccably healthy” grapes with fruit brought to full ripeness.

Chairman of the Cotes du Rhone appellation Philippe Pellaton said: “The first Cotes du Rhones are already showing everything we could hope for – fruit, colour and texture, with roundness and freshness on the palate. We are on track for a glorious vintage.”