Burgundy wine producer and négociant, Louis Latour is planting ‘spies’ at ports to assess the condition of the wines being shipped from France to export markets.
Jean-Charles Thomas, head winemaker at Louis Latour, said the use of ‘spies’ at ports had come about with wine buyers increasingly using the cheaper option of shipping wine in dry containers rather than using temperature-controlled reefer containers. “We put spies in the port of Le Havre so that we can provide ourselves with evidence regarding the temperature and the state of wines once they have been put in containers," Thomas said. “Excessive temperatures and temperature variations increase the volume of wine in the bottle and can lead to leaks which stain the labels of bottles as well as causing premature oxidation.”
He said the ‘spies’ were private security companies. “We use these in agents in Le Havre but also in the ports of destination,” he added.
Buyers of Louis Latour wines are charged for the transport of the goods. “On our bills to buyers we always state that reefer containers should be used for the transport of wine, but instead of doing this, buyers are increasingly using dry containers and taking out insurance should anything damage to wines occur,” Thomas said. “It’s as if we were selling cars and the buyers were never taking their cars to the garage for maintenance.”
Louis Latour exports to 120 countries including Asian destinations and the US, its leading export market. “With the US we have an agreement that wines are shipped from Le Havre and unloaded in seven days,” Thomas said. “We don’t have this agreement with ports in Asia.”
Shipping to China from the port of Le Havre can take between 33 and 37 days. In some cases, shipments for Asia were being left for up to two weeks at port, adding further concern over the condition of wines at ports.
Thomas said Louis Latour had adopted further new measures to provide themselves with evidence of the temperature of wines in containers. “We put tracking devices in the boxes before they leave Louis Latour,” he said, “but the problem is that it can be difficult to recover the devices once the wine is shipped, so prior to exportation, we place stickers inside the wine boxes which change colour according to the temperature of the wine.”
Louis Latour has not faced legal battles with buyers regarding the temperature of wine transportation, but Thomas said that the company had received complaints. “We have received complaints about wines three years after their bottling,” he said. “It not about whether its cork or screw cap –it’s about the temperature of the wine. At the moment it’s 50 degrees Celsius in the Persian Gulf” which can take a ship four or five days to cross.
Thomas said alternatives to the temperature-controlled reefer container, were not efficient enough.“We, have raised the issue of dry container use with France’s wine and spirits exports federation, but we have not found a solution to it,” Thomas said.
“It’s increasingly a problem for wine exports and not only for Latour,” he said.