Thursday, June 29, 2023
It's a first for the supermarket sector: Colruyt Group, whose reputation as a wine specialist is well established, has launched an initial viticultural phase with a view to marketing the first bottles of Belgian organic wine from its own wineries by 2026. The first four hectares of vines have been planted at 'La Croisette' in Frasnes-lez-Anvaing. Next year, 5 hectares will complete the vineyard. Through this venture, Colruyt Group aims to meet customer demand and significantly increase the supply of Belgian organic wine in a young and promising market. The project fits in with both the group's policy of vertical integration and its agricultural strategy. Ultimately, and in a favourable scenario, Colruyt Group aims to produce some 70,000 bottles of still white, rosé and red wine a year.
A real craze
The rise of Belgian wine and the interest in viticulture in our country will not have escaped anyone. Today, Belgium boasts some 700 hectares of vineyards, with an annual production - year in, year out - of some three million litres. On a broader scale, and thanks to climate change, the European, if not global, winegrowing landscape is changing. Saskia De Block, Agriculture responsible at Colruyt Group: "This craze is something we're following closely. And inevitably, our customers' demand for Belgian wine is growing, driven by an interest in local production of ever higher quality and the curiosity it arouses.” The fact remains that the volumes produced do not currently allow us to offer a plethora of products on our shelves. At the very least, one or two references are available in limited quantities in some of the group's shops or on the Grands Vins Colruyt online sales site.
"As a Belgian player, Colruyt Group aims to offer a Belgian and local range as far as possible, and to encourage this to take root," continues Saskia de Block. "At the same time, we want to play an active role in making agriculture more sustainable and stimulating innovation in this area. And why not do it ourselves in the categories we consider important?” Since wine is a destination category for many of our customers, the idea of getting into wine production was born. The first steps have now been taken.
The first four hectares
For its vineyard, the group has found its ideal location in Frasnes-lez-Anvaing. For one thing, the Hainaut municipality is close to the Ghislenghien site, which houses Fine Food Wine, the wine bottling department. It is on this same site that the group's future winery will be located. The Pays des Collines also offers an extremely favourable terrain in terms of soil, relief and exposure.
The vine-growing phase has begun with the planting of the first four hectares. Once the soil had been prepared, it was not until the first fine days of April that Carlo Faber, a well-known nurseryman in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, was able to plant the 20,600 vines at the "La Croisette" site. Next year, the operation will be repeated a few hundred metres away, at the "Les Monts" site.
In total, Colruyt Group will have a vineyard of just under 10 hectares, making it one of the 'big boys' of small Belgium. "A critical volume is indeed necessary to serve our ambitions, but it's a challenge we're taking up with great enthusiasm," confirms Saskia de Block. "Even if we have to be patient. The first harvest is scheduled for 2025, so we'll be taking advantage of this time to invest in the winemaking phase and add to our team. An integrated industry certainly doesn't rule out close collaboration with external partners. Sharing expertise is essential.”
The vinification phase will begin at the same time. However, full capacity - around 52,000 litres - will not be reached until at least 2029, with the first bottles of white wine expected in 2026. Eventually, the range will include white wine, rosé wine and, to a lesser extent, red wine.
With a view to preserving the soil, we opted from the outset for organic farming. “We felt this was the minimum, despite the size of the estate, and we're approaching it with all the humility it implies,” admits Saskia De Block. "It's true that new sustainable farming techniques are gradually making inroads (biodynamics, agroecology, etc.). We're certainly not closing the door on further developments.”
This first viticultural phase is dedicated to white grape varieties: Muscaris, Souvignier Gris and Johanniter. Next year, in addition to Solaris, red grape varieties will make their debut, including Cabaret Noir, Carbernet Jura, Satin Noir and Pinot Kors. “Given our organic certification, we opted for resistant varieties," explains Jean-Christophe Verschelde, the group's wine expert and an amateur winemaker. "Belgian viticulture is still in its infancy, so we based our choice on soil analyses, advice from nurserymen, the behaviour of existing grape varieties and, of course, tasting Belgian wines.”
The young vineyard has already been fitted with stakes and sleeves, while the trellising is under way. Initially, the vines will need to be closely supervised, but the maintenance will be kept to a minimum as nature takes its course.
What's the point of a "producer-distributor"?
With its Fine Food departments, Colruyt Group wants to focus on vertical integration, sourced as locally as possible and in close collaboration with its partners and the primary sector. Today, almost a third of our own-brand products come from these departments. These are the categories considered to be important:
- Fine Food Meat is our meat processing business,
- Fine Food Bread is the Group's industrial bakery,
- Fine Food Coffee has its own coffee roasting plant,
- Fine Food Spreads specialises in the creation of spreadable salads,
- Fine Food Cheese specialises in cheese cutting,
- Fine Food Wine bottles wine and will soon have its own winemaking facility.
Producing products in-house has a number of advantages for customers. Firstly, by managing the production process, vertical integration makes it possible to guarantee stable quality and adapt supply to demand. Secondly, in the interests of sustainability, it allows us to control our ecological impact and source as much as possible in Belgium. Finally, in a competitive environment, producing our own products allows us to develop in-depth knowledge of the market and the supply chain. In this way, we can maximise added value for the economy, people and the environment.
Colruyt Group and wine, a passion for over 80 years
The history of the Colruyt Group is closely linked to the wine trade. Since 1937, Franz Colruyt would never return from his holidays in the Bordeaux region without a few barrels of wine, which he was quick to bottle and sell in his Hal grocery shop. Since 2007, our Fine Food Wine department in Ghislenghien has been bottling up to 25 million litres of wine a year, with some blends being made in-house. Two specific lines are also dedicated to Party-Boxes.
Experienced wine buyers specialising in one or more regions regularly visit the various vineyards and wineries and conclude long-term agreements with certain winemakers, resulting in exclusive offers in our shops.
The wine advisors in the shops also visit cellars and take training courses on wine and food pairing, so that they can guide our customers in their choice.
Each shop formula adapts its range to the needs of its customers:
• Colruyt focuses on a wide range (500 references) of affordable wines, to satisfy as many people as possible, while the more premium wines in the Grands Vins Colruyt online offer (800 references, but in varying volumes) will be aimed at connoisseurs and other discoverers.
• Bio-Planet has put together a range of some 100 wines, 90% of which are produced in Europe. True to its values of sustainability, the brand also offers vegan wines and natural wines where human intervention is reduced to a minimum.
• As local shops, Spar shops want to meet the needs of a wide range of customers, so they offer a wide range of wines in terms of price, origin, organic and even top-of-the-range. Spar entrepreneurs are not forgotten when it comes to training, and visits to vineyards are organised for those with a passion for wine.
Finally, since 2012, Colruyt Group has also been sharing its expertise with consumers through the Colruyt Group Academy workshops. Introductory and advanced oenology workshops are now an established feature of the Academy's offering.