The challenge of winemaking on Delano Live: Five takeaways

Delano hosted its first live event of the year on 18 May, speaking with Bernard-Massard’s general manager Antoine Clasen about winemaking, climate change and the impact of the pandemic. 

Clasen is the fifth generation to lead the family business, having taken over as general manager from his father in 2016. Hubert Clasen remains the company’s CEO.

Together with Delano journalist Cordula Schnuer, Clasen discussed some of the challenges of winemaking.

Here are five takeaways from the evening:

The climate is changing

Luxembourg was spared by the late frost that devastated large parts of France’s vineyards this year and although the grapes are late, 2021 could still be a good year. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent though, Clasen said, whether that be heat, drought or excessive rain. Some grape varieties are harvested around two weeks earlier than in previous decades and in 20 to 25 years, the Pinot Gris variety could disappear.

A century of crises

Bernard-Massard celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and, looking at the big picture, it was a century marked by successive crises, Clasen said, from the Great Depression to the Second World War, the 1970s oil crisis, the financial crisis of 2008 and now the pandemic. The company suffered a drop in turnover of 8% in 2020, a comparatively good result, said Clasen, as exports continued and a loyal customer base at home helped keep up sales.

New markets take time

Bernard-Massard exports around 50% of its production to Belgium and the Netherlands, but also much further afield to Finland, Canada and Russia. But developing these markets takes time, the general manager said, adding that export to Canada started with around 3,000 bottles a year and took nearly a decade to get to half a million today.

Planting for the next generation

If it takes time to develop markets, so does planting a vineyard. The next generation will reap the benefits of what Bernard-Massard sows today, Clasen explained. The entrepreneur is keen on expanding the Pinot Noir variety, analysing which of his vineyards are best suited for the grapes. He expects to present the result in five to seven years.  

Strategy unchanged

Even though the pandemic has disrupted business--and Clasen hopes for a better 2021--the company’s strategy remains unchanged, he said. The long-term view continues to include exploring new markets and exporting more widely. Bernard-Massard also wants to progressively convert to making more organic wines, having introduced its first organic crémant last year.

This event was organised by the Paperjam + Delano Club and sponsored by Bernard-Massard. For more upcoming events visit the club's website.