Although the spread of e-commerce websites has connected producers and consumers, the wine shippers have not had their final say yet.
The profession, which emerged in Bordeaux in the Middle Ages, is one of the essential links in the wine trade. Today, from Bordeaux to Burgundy, via Champagne and the Rhone Valley, wine shippers select wines from independent growers before marketing them in France and overseas. They act as intermediaries between winegrowers and wine merchants, restaurants, hotels and supermarket buyers.
Over the centuries, some of the great names in the Bordeaux wine trade have managed to build up such a reputation that they can afford to operate across-the-board. However, the vast majority of shippers choose to specialise in either grands crus classés, chateaux wines or shippers’ brands. In Burgundy, the profession is often closely connected to the maturation phase of the wines. Unlike other regions, where shippers buy bottles, here, they purchase must, or even grapes and are then responsible for making the wines and ageing them in their own cellars before marketing them. This is also the case in Champagne, where shippers produce their own sparkling wines; here they are called ‘négociant manipulant’ or houses. Regardless of the region where they practise their profession, shippers are first and foremost salesmen. Some have graduated with a BTS diploma in technical and commercial agriculture or a vocational degree.
More and more industry members go through the business school system before completing their training with a master's degree specialising in marketing and the international wine trade.
By Alexandra Reveillon