Which came first – the bottle or the wine?
In the case of J.P. Chenet the answer is the bottle. And, if you are looking for a rosé to take on a September afternoon boat party, my small tasting panel recently gave the thumbs up for J.P. Chenet Grenache-Cinsault rosé in a curvy, slightly asymmetric 750ml bottle.
This pale pink, dry and fresh wine delivers a lovely elegant rosé flavour at a reasonable 12 per cent abv. I found it at the relatively bargain price of £5.35 at Sainsbury’s. The bottle does not fit in a regular type cooler but the shape makes it pretty stable on a gently rocking cockpit table. This unique bottle was the catalyst that launched the J.P. Chenet brand.
In 1984 Joseph Helfrich, aged 23, living in the Strasbourg area of France, designed and succeeded in producing an asymmetrical bottle with a slanted neck and a bulbous base reminiscent of a sculptor’s mallet or wide-based ship’s decanter.
Having got the bottle, what to do with it?
An entrepreneurial friend, one J.P. Chanel (sic), suggested wine with the quirky bottle as an attention-grabbing feature. Et voila! With a slight name change, the J.P. Chenet brand was founded. They started with just two wines, a Blanc de Blanc Vin du Pays de Côtes de Gascogne and a Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays Côtes D’Oc.
Without a vineyard of their own, J.P. Chenet sources grapes from any of 600 vineyards across France. The wines are termed ‘varietals’, in effect blends by basic type, red, white, rosé, not by the grape or terroir that is the basis for Appellation Contrôlée wines.
Free of these AC strictures, the brand has a much greater scope for creating products and price points that match consumer trends and taste fashions over time. Their declared intention has been to make a popular brand, like Gallo of California and Jacob’s Creek of Australia, and not any Grand Cru.
CHOICE IS YOURS
It has been a successful strategy for Chenet, which now has a range of around a dozen varietals, red, white, rosé, sparkling white, a bag in a box and a brandy. The firm also experiments with ‘new’ wine drinks such as fruit based wines and a speciality white wine to be served super cold with ice.
They sell over 35 million bottles a year and claim 17 per cent of France’s wine exports, selling to 160 countries. And they say a bottle of Chenet is sold every second!
In the wine business 30 years is not a long time and this growth is exceptional.
As an alternative for a late summer party, we tasted an Italian Castellore Pinot Grigio Blush which, at 11.5 per cent, was judged very good and unexpectedly full of flavour. £4.29 at Aldi.
We also tasted some drinks for the drivers and the Stowford Press 0.5 per cent cider was voted excellent, nicely tart on the tongue.
Henry Weston founded the business in 1880 in the Bounds of March, Herefordshire, and five generations since have been in charge. The Stowford Press is pure cider, with no artificial colouring or sweetening. It is good for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs. £15.50 for a case of twelve 330ml bottles at Aldi.