Luxembourg's wines are not only popular in Luxembourg, but are also enjoying increasing international success. The reason behind this is the focus on quality. We spoke with Romain Schneider, Minister for Agriculture, Viticulture and Rural Development, about the Luxembourg wine region, the country's move to ban glyphosate and how best to discover Luxembourg's wines.
Speaking of increasing international popularity: how do you see Luxembourg's wines in an international context?
Luxembourg's crémants and wines are very much in demand, especially from the hospitality industry, as well as from private buyers. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen an increase in private demand.
Our main export partners are currently Germany and Belgium. Recently, however, a few new countries such as Japan and China have joined this list. The decision to adopt a quality approach a few years ago in Luxembourg is now bearing its fruit.
What is certainly contributing to the success of Luxembourg's wines are the climatic conditions of the past few years, with lots of sunshine, which has had a considerable influence on the conditions for local wine, and therefore also on the quality.
How important is the foreign market?
We currently export about 30% to 35% of the wines produced in Luxembourg - but there is still potential here. However, even if these markets are naturally attractive, the quality of the wines must continue to be the main focus. It is of course important for the winemakers that what we produce is also sold. As with any agricultural product, sales are just as important as production, which in turn guarantees the profitability of the business.
Who is Romain Schneider?
Romain Schneider (1962 vintage) was born in Wiltz, in the heart of the Luxembourg Ardennes. He entered government in 2009 and has held the post of Minister for Agriculture, Viticulture and Rural Development since then. Read his complete biography on the government portal, Gouvernement.lu.
What are the special characteristics of Luxembourg wines?
On the one hand, there is of course the taste, the aromas, and on the other hand, Luxembourg's wines benefit from their strong identification with the region. It is very important that there is a face behind the wines, and that is the ace up our sleeve. The Covid period has been very difficult because this personal contact is missing. The Luxembourg wine-growing region is small [about 1,300 hectares - editor's note], and therefore the wines are also very strongly connected to individual personalities.
The coronavirus pandemic is a challenge in many ways. How big has the impact of Covid-19 been on Luxembourg's winegrowers?
Wine is a systemically important agricultural product. It was therefore very important for the winegrowers to be able to continue working during the lockdown, and that we were able to perfectly prepare the harvest in advance so as to avoid disruptions - and we succeeded in doing so.
Of course there were drops in wine consumption as less wine was sold owing to the closure of restaurants and wine bars. The cancellation of major events also meant that much less wine was sold. However, private sales picked up noticeably, with winegrowers adapting, e.g. making online shopping offers and tasting packages available for order. I believe that these measures will continue in the longer term, that online offers will be maintained in parallel with traditional tastings, albeit for the moment perhaps sporadically and in smaller groups.
Innovation and digitalisation have proved to be very important factors which have helped to limit the losses, even if there are noticeable. We will have to take stock at a later stage.
Another challenge facing agriculture in Luxembourg is the forthcoming ban on the sale and use of glyphosate. Why has Luxembourg taken the lead in banning the sale of glyphosate?
The ban on the sale and use of glyphosate is part of the government's current programme, so it was clear that this would happen. In addition, Luxembourg has in the past repeatedly opposed the renewal of authorisations, so the ban was a logical step in this direction. Luxembourg has therefore remained true to this objective.
Moreover, we have not left farmers and winegrowers alone: for the crop year 2020, we had promised aid to all those who would be prepared to stop using glyphosate this year. 65% of all farmers have made use of this aid - and 99% of winegrowers!
You mentioned climate change at the beginning. What influence is climate change having on Luxembourg's viticulture and wines?
Luxembourg's wines, and the wine sector in general, are 'winners' when it comes to climate change. The warm summers of recent years and all the sunshine have benefit the grapes, with a positive effect on quality. However, new challenges are awaiting us: drought is affecting the vineyards, as is sunburn, which can destroy grapes, in addition to disease. To counteract this, we are working together with the Wine Institute (Institut viti-vinicole, IVV) for example, to try find more resistant grape varieties for Luxembourg.
Are you yourself a wine connoisseur?
I wouldn't describe myself as a wine connoisseur. However, my political office in recent years has helped me gain a very deep insight into viticulture and Luxembourg's wines. I've discovered Luxembourg's crémants and wines, and when I drink white wine today, it is one of the local ones. The excellent quality always invites you to enjoy more of it.
What is the best way to discover Luxembourg's wines?
It is best to visit the region and enjoy the wines where they are produced. In addition, the Moselle region offers excellent opportunities to combine wine tasting and exploring the region on foot or bike, something you should not miss.
Mr Schneider, many thanks for the interview.