Air cargo toasting return of Beaujolais

Air cargo toasting return of Beaujolais

If it's November, it must be time for Beaujolais Nouveau, the French wine that starts appearing on retail shelves and restaurant menus around the world the third Thursday of the month.

The rush season is a bonanza for air cargo carriers. Air France says it will haul 1,900 tons of the wine this year, while Lufthansa will carry more than 1,000 tons beginning Thursday. British Airways claims it will handle nearly 1 million bottles.

The popular low-priced wine is expected to be of higher quality this year due to record high temperatures in Europe that allowed vintners to harvest grapes earlier, and bottled wine to spend more time in cellars. However, production was off about 40 percent due to the extreme heat.

As usual, carriers are adding extra flights in response to heavy demand for the wine. Air France, for example, will operate two non-stop special flights to Tokyo and Osaka on Thursday using its new 747-400 extended-range freighters. It will also operate five extra 747-200 freighters to Osaka Thursday and Friday and ship the wine in the holds of scheduled passenger flights to Tokyo and Osaka.

In contrast, Air France has not scheduled any additional flights to the United States, but will reserve capacity on both passenger and freighter flights bound for Chicago, Miami and New York.

"Japan has replaced the U.S. as the top market," said Anne-Marie Rosaler, director of product development USA for Air France, which expects to handle several million bottles of the wine this year.

Industry observers are predicting record sales for Beaujolais in Japan despite price increases of up to 10 percent because of the euro's appreciation, according to Lufthansa Cargo.

The German carrier's charter subsidiary will operate two special wine flights from Frankfurt to Osaka. It expects to ship 160 metric tons to Japan, 90 tons to Korea and 30 tons to Taipei, the major destinations for the wine outside the U.S. The airline will deploy 54 trucks to carry the wine from France to Lufthansa's hub in Frankfurt.

British Airways said it has reserved 5,000-square meters of space at its Lyon cargo facility and assigned eight staff members to handle the Beaujolais shipments. They will manage six flights by 747-400s to BA's hub at Heathrow Airport in London. From Heathrow it will ship the wine on 94 flights to 20 cities around the world, ensuring the delivery of 600,000 bottles by Nov. 20.