Fans of Beaujolais Nouveau, the world-renowned French new wine, toasted the midnight release of this year's batch across Japan on Nov. 16--but they turned out in numbers considerably lower than in previous years.
The volume of the vin de primeur's imports has been losing ground annually. Marketing agency Sopexa Japon said that the volume of Beaujolais Nouveau imports in 2016 was only half the peak figure set in 2004 and is expected to drop further in 2017.
The volume of imports by beverages giant Kirin Holdings Co. fell about 20 percent year on year.
"Opportunities for drinking wine have become quite commonplace, and Beaujolais Nouveau is losing its status of being something special," a Kirin representative said.
Until last year, the Beaujolais Nouveau release date was celebrated with an annual midnight event organized by Inter Beaujolais in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. This year, however, the group only organized a daytime event in hopes of convincing more people to join.
"We want people to relish the wine in earnest rather than to count down the time until its release," an Inter Beaujolais official said.
Diners enjoyed Beaujolais Nouveau on the evening of Nov. 16 at "Niku Garage," an Italian bar in Osaka’s Kita Ward. But the gathering was more subdued than the large celebration events that used to be common, as the affair has become quieter from year to year, the bar manager said.
Japan is currently in the grip of a wine craze, with the volume of sales setting new records for four consecutive years through 2015. But Beaujolais Nouveau is falling out of favor as other wines soar in popularity.
The waning craze for Beaujolais Nouveau is also partly attributable to the rise of cheaper New World wines from nations such as Chile and South Africa.
The more mature a wine, the higher its quality is believed to be. More than a few wine connoisseurs say that the Beaujolais Nouveau is overpriced for a primeur.
Industry players are working out strategies in hopes of recovering lost sales.
Suntory Holdings Ltd. coined the term "Beaujopa" to promote the ideas of home and office parties for drinking Beaujolais Nouveau. Kirin and Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. are presenting wine-friendly recipes at supermarket storefronts to invite more consumers to drink the new wine at home.
Aeon Retail Co. is marketing the Michel Guignier Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine product known for its use of organically grown grapes, at some of its chain outlets. A 750-milliliter bottle of the product is priced at 1,980 yen ($17.60), excluding the 8-percent consumption tax.
The strategy is about drawing wine lovers even at the cost of somewhat higher prices, an Aeon representative said.
Don Quijote Co. is taking the opposite approach and emphasizing low prices. The discount shop chain operator has released 750-ml plastic bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau at a unit price of 538 yen plus tax.
"We want first-time Beaujolais Nouveau drinkers to relish the product," a Don Quijote spokesperson said, adding that the company is aiming to be the lowest-price seller in the market for the eighth consecutive year.