Three very big tastings over the past four days - first of Graves red and whites on Thursday, then Cru Bourgeois on Friday, and the Cercle de Rive Droite in Fronsac today. The quality is overall as high as expected - in fact better than expected, because I was definitely wary of high alcohol. There's some over-extraction though, and I wouldn't say it is as consistent at 2005 across the board. Highlights so far have been Pavie-Decesse, Leoville Las Cases and - at a slightly more affordable level - La Chapelle de la Mission Haut Brion. But some of the cru bourgeois, and the Cotes/Bdx Superieurs that I tasted today have also been really approachable, excellent quality wines that shouldn't cost more than 10-15 euros.
Last night was another highlight; the 25th anniversary dinner of Catherine Pere-Verge's arrival in Pomerol. She makes some of the most exciting wines in Pomerol - La Violette, Ch Montviel and Ch Le Gay, as well as Bodegas Monteviej in Argentina (part of the Clos de los Siete project with Michel Rolland - also consultant for her Bordeaux properties). Before becoming a winemaker on two continents, she was part-owner of France's largest crystal companies, D'Arques.
Among the many wonderful wines tasted last night (including La Violette and Le Gay 2009) was a 10 years (not consecutive) vertical of Ch Montviel, that I thought I would write up here.
Ch Montviel 1986
Gorgeous soft brie on the nose, with gentle strawberry and loganberry fruits. Gentle spices, still a lovely lift on the finish. It's hard to score this lovely, soft wine as it's at the stage of evolution where each meeting will be very different. Worth trying to pin down. 94-96 (if forced!)
Ch Montviel 1988
Blacker, denser and more evident fruit here, even though just two years younger. Not quite as gently charming, this has more liquorice and intensity of fruit in the mid-palate, again the same soft, gently insisting finish. 93-94
Ch Montviel 1990
Really a gorgeous wine, at that see-saw moment between old and young, fresh, delicate soft red fruits, but with a steely power underneath. Shame to have just a sip of this, definitely deserves to be taken to the table and drunk. 97-99.
Ch Montviel 1994
Fresh on the nose, but far older than the 1990 on the palate. This has more tertiary flavours of bracken, truffles and marinated strawberries. 92.
Ch Montviel 1995
Another inmpressive wine, still incredibly tight and young, firm fruit, evident spice and strongly present tannins. Very good. 93.
Ch Montviel 1998
Seriously enjoyable tasting, really fascinating view of how good this wine is. This has the brie and blue cheese nose suggesting where it might go as it ages, against a fresh burst of fruits on the palate, and a lovely minty blast on the finish. 94-95.
Ch Montviel 1999
The tertiary flavours again, feels that this is in its tasting window, very enjoyable cigar smoke and soft strawberries. but less intense than many here. 90-91.
Ch Montviel 2000
Along with the 1990, my favourite wine of the line-up. A firm corset of tannins, mixed with beautiful balance of fruit and freshness. So, so good. 97-99+
Ch Montviel 2002
A difficult task to follow the 2000, and this is a more 'classic', with good red fruits, but less intensity. 90.
Ch Montviel 2003
Surprisingly seductive open nose and really rather wonderful on the palate. Not one to wait for years over, but definitely ready to enjoy right now. Some good freshness for the vintage, and a wine that really makes you smile. 94-96
We also drank Ch Le Gay from 20004 to 2008, again really fascinating - particularly impressive were the 2005 and the 2008.
Overall so far, I have probably tasted around 400 wines so far this en primeur season, and the first day officially starts tomorrow morning... drinking Perrier tonight.
Back from New York on Monday evening (already missing those skinny decaf lattes!), and straight into 09 tastings on Tuesday morning, kicking off with Cos d'Estournel, Montrose, Leoville Las Cases, Branaire Ducru (which takes the price for the most interesting entrance, with music, neon artwork and this on the walls...) and Haut Brion.
Tuesday night was a tasting of Ch Palmer, but this one was slightly different to the rest, as American-French jazz pianist, Jacky Terrasson, had composed two pieces for the 09 vintage, one for Alter Ego and one for Palmer. Terrasson is one of the leading jazz pianists in the world today. He won the Thelonius Monk prize in 1993, pretty much as soon as he arrived on the New York scene. There were around 40 of us listening to this on Tuesday night, and all felt I'm sure incredibly lucky to be hearing him.
This was followed by a dinner from chef Olivier Gibault, matching '-9' vintages of Palmer, including the 1959, 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999 - and we had already tasted the 2009 in the cellars beforehand (all tasting notes, by the way, to be put onto www.newbordeaux.com over the next week or so).
The chateau Palmer 1969 was accompanied by a risotto with a light strawberry accompaniment. This wine was the most open of the evening, full of rich autumnal notes and really quite spicy by this stage.
The 1979 was a revelation, still incredibly young with a lovely tannic structure wrapped around still-lively fruits. This was with a dish of rabbit and onion confit, with a tomato and sage jus, an utterly gorgeous match, and made even better by how surprisingly good this often under-rated vintage was.
The next part was easily the highlight of the meal - the 1989 and 1959 Chateau Palmer, with cheek and tail of beef, glazed carrots and creamed polenta. I can't overstate how good these two wines were. The 1959 felt so youthful, a good ten years younger than the 1969. When you imagine how the cellars probably were in 1969, and how the selection process would have been far less stringent than today, it's quite amazing how good this wine still was, but it was rich, great length, silky tannins, and still with a way to go (but I believe this bottle is worth around 1,000 euros today). The 1989 is probably still available with a little less effort than the 59, and is equally sumptuous, still very young, frseh, great rise at the end, pure rich fruits with a hint of gently warming spice coming through.
We finished off with the 1999 with cheese, then a wonderful creme de citron and orange sorbet. I have had the 99 Palmer with cheese at another recent meal, and again it was a great match, and another under-rated vintage.
Thankyou to Thomas Duroux, Jacky Terrasson and the Ch Palmer team for this really wonderful evening.
The week of meetings ended yesterday with a great tasting and dinner at the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington, where we had a mix of journalists through the Wine Media Guild and some really great consumers through the site Cork'd (owned by Gary Vaynerchuk, a kindof facebook of wine). Hopefully they'll be reviewing the wines on the site over the next few days http://corkd.com
The last wine trade meeting of the week had been with Millesima USA www.millesima-usa.com , a retail store that is part of the Millesima wine merchant business in Bordeaux itself. Millesima is the only licensed retail outlet of a French wine company in the US, and has a great range of both Bordeaux and non-Bordeaux wines, located on the Upper East Side. The director over here is Roger Bomrich, one of the first masters of wine in the US. I'm going to repeat here pretty much in full what he said, because it was just so interesting and helpful for the winemakers, and gave a great overview of the routes into the US.
One of the things that has become clearest over this week is just how much the system is in flux at the moment, after the dropping out of Chateaux & Estate from the market. Which means there are all kind of opportunities.
'You will hear conflicting comments because the system is in flux, and there is a great deal of tension in the marketplace. The tendancy has been towards an open marketplace, all forces point towards that direction, however vested interests create barriers towards that ultimate objective.'
'Many commercial tests going on by the actors at each level at the moment, as well as legal tests (such as which states wineries and retailers can ship to. A few years ago interstate shipping was allowed, but only for producers and if they applied for the right permits).'
'Wineries in the US have been very active in developing direct to consumer trend. Wholesalers (the theoretical middle tier) have largely been obstructive to this, because they perceive that they stand to be the primary losers as the market is liberalised (and they are probably right). They see some of their own suppliers (wineries) juming over the wholesale tier, even retail sometimes, and selling direct = it’s a threat. I think it will be many years before there is a fundamental change and the market truly opens up.'
'In the mean time, there is increasing tension, even chaos. Some companies specialise in finding ways around the laws, perhaps through partner retailers for shipping.'
The key question for these guys to take away is how do you get into the US market? What are the best strategies?
If you have a large production that you must have large distribution for, then you need to find a strong regional importer, or several. Or one exclusive national marketing agent. IF you have the volume and ambition. If on the other hand you have a limited production, and a smaller ambition (maybe up to 10,000 cases), there may be more creative and more successful mechanisms to pursue than to seek out a national distributor.
This is a very real discussion with producers who desperately want to try to be present on the US market.
1) Define you own objectives. What is your product truly about, and what do you want from the market? You have to define what you are first.
2) In recent years, plenty of things have developed. Wine Clubs have become huge. What started as a phenomenon that was off-the-radar has become mainstream. Many specialised previously in Oregon, California etc. Now the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Zagats, LocalWineEvents.com and many others have jumped into the wine club business in the last two years. And the volume of wine is huge, but most retailers are barely aware of it. This is growing strongly. This could be an outlet for smaller producers. The challenge is continuity as opposed to a one-time sale.
3) Contact retailers that you have already met. Meet key players and establish a direct relationship with them. You could forget importers! Because every key retailer in the country has special relationships with importers, and they will put you in touch with the importer/wholesaler who will take care of the technical side. Good retailers today increasingly want to find a way to separate themselves from the need to sell products that are widely distributed at low profit. They want exclusive products with better margins to enhance their position.
4) If choosing an importer. There are very few who are truly competent at a national level (ie have wholesalers or brokers in every state). Cobrand, Palm Bay, Frederick Wildman, maybe two or three others. The drawback can be they are more cumbersome, hard to get noticed, and you need resources to develop your brand. But of course can be enormously successful in certain cases. But you’re competing with all the other suppliers in that company, and all the other companies that the wholesaler will be distributing. And would need minimum of one month presence on the market (probably two weeks at a time in spring and autumn).
5) Regional importers. They can be extremely effective in their own states, usually two or three states. An example would be Polaner, v good fine wine specialist.
6) Key regions for Bdx wines. Of course New York and New York State, plus most important metropolitan markets – all the traditional East Coast markets. Boston (Massachusets generally), Washington DC (where retailers can import directly. Calvert and Woodley for example, a major Bdx retailer). Other east coast areas such as New Hampshire, Conneticut, Virginia, Pennslyvania (but here there is a monopoly, a separate category which is v complicated, but rewarding if you get in). Of course also Chicago is huge. Dallas and Houston important wine markets, but more difficult for imported wines. And California extremely important for imported fine wines. Bay Area and LA, plenty of smaller fine wine importers can be very effective. Many are more inclined to do business with small fine wines that the big importers. Legally can be retailer, importer and wholesaler in California. Often not possible to be a success at all levels, but it’s possible. Wine Exchange (Orange County), the Wine House, the Wine Club, K&L. All serious retailers who trade nationally. South Florida also a strong wine market.
Three fascinating meetings yesterday. First with Astor Wine & Spirits and lastly with Sherry Lehmann. Both of these were really interesting, and I will write up some market advice for winemakers looking to get distributed in New York later in the week, but I thought I would put a write up about a less business-focused meeting, with City Winery
in SoHo, where we met winemaker David Lecomte.
This new arrival on the city’s wine scene opened its doors for the 2008 vintage. Housed in an old printing factory in Soho, it is owned by Michael Brell, ex-owner of the Knitting Factory nightclub and a music producer. It operates as both a working winery (buying in grapes from select producers around the United States, and with a venture in 2009 into Argentina). It runs a wine tourism side, where you can tour the winery, and also has a bar and restaurant (selling not only their own wines, but over 300 references), and is available for private hire and other arts events. Not surprisingly with Michael’s background, regular music concerts and gigs are staged here.
It differs from Crushpad because it is not a custom crush facility – instead winemaker Lecomte (originally from Burgundy) makes all the decisions himself (except for the wine labels, which are designed by the clients). They describe themselves as a ‘membership winery’, and currently have around 220 members, who pay between $5,000 and $8,000 for a barrel (minimum purchase 1/5 of a barrel). Current production around 200 barrels per year (15,000 gallons) – but it would be tough to move too far upwards of this, because of space pressures in the downtown location.
Among the grapes that come in is pinot noir from Carneros, pinot noir from Willamette Valley, Riesling from the Finger Lakes, cabernet from Mendocino Lake. But all renowned producers, individual vineyards, who must pick at night into small trays, following strict quality procedures. They pay around 15% above market rates for the best quality grapes, so giving incentive to producers, and buy around 6-8 tonnes of grapes per producer.
Lecomte ‘ Our idea was to give the experience of winemaking to anyone, so people can come downtown and help sort the grapes, punch down, help with different stages of the process. It had to be in the centre of a large city to keep the experience for city dwellers.’
The cabernet and pinot are the top sellers, around 70% of production.
As long as it is sold just in New York state, they can put the origin of the grapes (eg Argentina Malbec) on the label.
Owner Michael Dorf was also there, and I grabbed him for a quick interview at the bar. He said, ‘Ultimately a winery’s job is to connect the vineyard to the consumer, so why not have the winery where the consumers are actually drinking?’
We arrived in New York last night for a week of market exploration with a group of nine Bordeaux winemakers. This is the same idea as the week we have been running in the UK for the last four years (I'm here as a consultant along with Brinda Bouhris of training company Speechmark), but this time we'll be meeting with Sherry Lehmann, Millesima USA, Kevin Zraly, Wine Spectator and others to get an overview of the east coast US market.
The winemakers here are:
¨ Chateau Serilhan, St Estèphe – Didier Marcelis
¨ Chateau Paloumey, Haut Medoc – Adeline Warthmann
¨ Chateau Beau Rivage, Bordeaux Supérieur - Christine Nadalié
¨ Chateau Brethous, Cotes de Bordeaux – Cécile Verdier Mallié
¨ Chateau du Cros, Loupiac – Thibault d’Halluin
¨ Chateau Cablanc, Bordeaux – Jean Daniel Debart
¨ Chateau Gamage, Bordeaux Supérieur – Usha Lavie
¨ Château Minvielle, Bordeaux Supérieur – Fanny Pillet & Pierre Michaud
¨ Vignobles Roux, Bordeaux – Catherine Gardner
With all the recent upheaval in the US market, this will be a fascinating week, for me also, to see how things are working out, and what the appetite is likely to be for the 2009 vintage.
However, before things kick off, I thought I would share an interesting new development with a courtier back in Bordeaux. The courtiers are that mysterious bunch of brokers that sit between the chateaux and the negociants. There are just 100 of them in total, and only 20 who really work with all the big chateaux and control pretty much all the key transactions.
One of these key figures in Francois Leveque. His family is a key name in the courtage business, and he today works with his daughter Caroline. Traditionally, every buy and sell transaction in Bordeaux is negociated by the brokers, they take a 2% cut of it, and they also record them, so price fluctuations dating back to the 17th century, sometimes earlier, are held by these brokers.
Leveque has just announced a dramatically more useful, contemporary and precise system for this, by turning all these records into a searchable database (for professionals only). Currently, it's tough to find out how a particular chateaux is doing on the market - how many stocks are left, and where those stocks are sitting. The best thing probably on the market now is www.wine-searcher.com, created by UK wine merchants around 10 years ago.
Leveque has developed an internet site that rivals this, and concentrates purely on Bordeaux wines. He told local paper Sud Ouest, 'You can find, for both recent and older vintages, all the prices of around 250 of the most prestigious Bordeaux properties, in total over 4,700 different references.'
This site will allow professionals to log on, and see how a wine is doing on the Place de Bordeaux, what its sell price is, what its original 'en primeur' exit price was, how its price has altered over different vintages and over time, and how much is available to buy. They have a partnership with www.winedecider.com which then shows the final consumer price both in France and in the world - so you can see what margins the wines are getting for those further down the distribution chain, all crucial information when deciding whether to buy of course. This bit is particularly interesting, as other courtiers such as Balaresque and Taste & Lawton have now also put the Place de Bordeaux prices on their own (professionals only) websites.
Bernard Magrez, owner of Chateau Pape Clement in Bordeaux and 34 other estates worldwide, has sold his Bergerac property Domaine des Songes, and bought a vineyard in the Douro Valley.
Domaine des Songes was bought four years ago, in 2006, but Magrez has made no secret of feeling it was a mistake to purchase the property, despite investing heavily in it. ‘I didn’t realise it would be so difficult to sell a Bergerac wine,’ he told me a few days ago. ‘I tried to make a high quality wine, with low yields and high production values, but the appellation simply couldn’t support the price.’
Instead, he has returned to a vineyard area where he started his career selling Port wine, buying a vineyard in the Pinhao region of the Upper Douro and producing a wine that will be bottled under the name Esperança. ‘I will be producing purely a still red wine, but from the same grape varieties as Port; Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.’
Production is expected to be around 8,000 bottles per year, and the first vintage will be 2009, to be bottled in last 2010.
Magrez refused to confirm rumours that surfaced in recent weeks that he was also looking to increase his vineyard holdings in Bordeaux, putting in an offer on Chateau Beychevelle in Saint Julien.
‘Somebody will say I’m buying the Eiffel Tower next, so I have stopped commenting on potential purchases.’
I am currently updating the Bordeaux section of www.winetravelguides.com, and just finishing up the South Medoc section. It reminded me that I have some great recipes that I thought I'd share. They were put together by Chateau Rauzan Gassies to work with their wines. The property itself has some fantastic food and wine matching workshops (or just eating opportunities) in their new tasting room in Margaux.
Chateau Rauzan Gassies 1999, with a dark chocolate fondant (they have this as their 'For Him' recipe).
FOR 2 PEOPLE:
Preparation: 10 minutes
Waiting: 15 minutes
Cooking: 15 minutes: 15 minutes
40 g. of sugar
30 g. of hazel nut powder
50 g. of black chocolate
50 g. of butter + butter and flour for the moulds
Whip together eggs and sugar. Add the hazel nut powder.
In a pan, dissolve the chocolate and butter. Smooth well and add to the
eggs/sugar mixture. Butter and coat with flour some aluminium
Fill up the ramekins. Keep 15 minutes in freezer so that the heart is
Put in the oven for 12 to 14 min (more or less depending on the ovens).
Let cool 10 min and turn them delicately out of the tin.
Best served with Château Rauzan-Gassies 1999
Open the bottle 30 minutes before tasting. Temperature: 18°C.
This vintage which has begun its evolution develops aromas of blackberry, peony, that mix in mouth, to notes of cinnamon, tobacco. A delicious association with the warm and melting chocolate!
Blueberry Muffins and Rauzan Gassies 2003 (they have this as 'For Her')
For 6 muffins
Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes
120 g. of sugar
1 sachet of vanilla sugar
40 g. of almond powder
120 g. of flour
100 g. of butter
1 teaspoon of yeast
150 g. of fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat the oven at 180ºC (Th. 6).
Mix together eggs and sugar. Then, pour the melted butter and mix the
Add the almond powder, the flour and yeast.
Spread the paste in the muffins moulds and put in the oven for 20 minutes
Château Rauzan-Gassies 2003
Open the bottle 30 minutes before tasting. Temperature: 18°C.
2003 works best, as the nose is characterized by flavours of very ripe black
fruits and remarkable smoothness in mouth.
A very interesting study was published this week by the Aquitaine Office of Food, Agriculture and Forests (DRAAF), on the price of vineyard land from 1991 to 2008.
It clearly reflects what has happened to the price of the wine itself, which is the enormously widening gulf in Bordeaux between the haves and the have-nots...
If you are looking to buy the basic appellations, from the Cotes, Bordeaux / Bordeaux Superieur, pretty much in fact 39 of the 44 appellations of Bordeaux, your money is going to go a lot further than it did nearly 20 years ago. Pretty depressing reading if you're a winemaker in one of these regions, but the price of land producing AOC Bdx Rouge is down to 13,700 euros per hectare (a drop of 42% from 1991). Cotes de Blaye is at 16,000 euros/ha (a drop of 45%), and red Graves down a whopping 50% to 22,800 euros/ha.
There are five clear winners: Pauillac, Pomerol, Margaux, Saint Julien and Saint Estephe (note that even Saint Emilion doesn't make it into this rareified list, probably because of its size. In fact in 1991, one hecatre of Pomerol was equivalent to 2 hectares of Saint Emilion, whereas in 2008 that same one hectare would have been worth 5 hectares in its neighbouring appellation).
The figures (it was journalist Cesar Compadre in the SudOuest who picked these out, so thankyou Cesar) get particularly incredible when you realise that these five prestigious AOCs account for just 5% of the vineyard area of Aquitaine, but for over 50% of its value. Their value has multiplied five-fold since 1991, and today it would cost you an average of 800,000 euros per hectare to purchase some vines. The average price of vineyard land across the whole of Aquitaine is 65,500 euros/hectare.
There will be another reason, I would imagine, why St Emilion land hasn't risen in quite the same way, and that is the classification system that says its the land that is classified, not the chateau name. Unlike in the Medoc, where a classified 1855 property could buy some parcels of a neighbours vineyard (of course only within their own appellation) and start bottling it in their first wine, therefore raising the price of that vineyard land by (on average) one third. That will start pulling the average price of vineyard land up pretty quickly in those appellations - something that can't happen in Saint Emilion (or at least they have to prove over the course of a decade that the wine has remained as good).
Even the 'nearly there' appellations can't keep pace. Not only in St Emilion losing ground to Pomerol, but one hectare of Pauillac is equal to 12 hectares in Listrac or Moulis - and 20 years ago it was equal to just under 3 hectares.
I had a very interesting visit to Chateau Dillon last week, a large and dynamic wine estate based in the southern end of the Medoc ( www.chateau-dillon.com ) that has a teaching school attached.
There are in fact three wine teaching schools in Bordeaux - most famously at Ch la Tour Blanche in Sauternes, but also Ch Dillon and another at château Grand Baril in Montagne St Emilion (not, by the way, Grand Barrail in St Emilion!). These have always been in the shadow of the more prestigious Faculty of Oenology, but have as of January 1, 2010, joined together under one umbrella.
What this means they now have one director (Alain Sixtre, formerly director of ch Dillon), will share teaching staff and allow the students to get experience of practical wine making from pruning to vinification in the three very different approaches of Left Bank, Right Bank and Sauternes. Basically the intention is to raise their profile and improve training standards. They do a lot of research and development and will now work together on research (on things like, right now, using acacia barrels rather than oak, and development of carbon-neutral, low impact winemaking).
The schools are state funded, but the wine estates attached are run as entirely separate businesses, as commercial enterprises (but ones that must undertake to allow students to take part in the winemaking and viticulture).
They are interesting properties to know about, because the teaching aspect means they have access to many of the latest machines and experimental techniques in the vineyard (and their dynamism, in the case of Dillon at least, is also seen in having ecommerce on their website... slowly, slowly, more Bordeaux chateaux are doing this).
This news story has been briefly reported in the past week or so, but I thought I'd put a more in-depth look at it here - as yet more proof of how the Bordeaux negociants are trying to regain their footing in the US market, and no doubt with great urgency before the 2009 en primeur campaign gets underway in a month or so.
Compagnie Médocaine des Grands Crus (a subsidiary of AXA Millesimes, owners of Pichon Baron and Petit Village) has announce a partnership with Frederick Wildman and Sons (longest established fine wine importer in the US) for the distribution and marketing of Bordeaux Classified and Cru Bourgeois estates and chateaux in the United States.
The partnership begins on March 1st, and will give all the wines offered by Compagneie Medocaine a direct route the market to US wholesale and retail customers - many of whom would have been previously served by Chateaux & Estates (see last post).
“We are delighted to enter into a collaboration with our long-time friends at Compagnie Médocaine des Grands Crus”, said Wildman President, Richard Cacciato in a press release. “We have long observed the Bordeaux market and were very active years ago when the market conditions were more propitious”, continued Cacciato. “They are again now, and we consider it an honor and a duty to be part of the Bordeaux Market with CMGC. This partnership will allow us to provide a tremendous service to our distributors and customers”.
Compagnie Médocaine des Grands Crus’ Managing Director, Georges Haushalter, added, “We have been present in the United States for many years now and are delighted to enhance our existing business with a partner as well established as Frederick Wildman and Sons. The United States market and our many customers there are very important to us”, Haushalter continued, “and this connection will allow us to provide even more service to them. Equally important, we will be able to provide greater distribution to the chateaux and domaines in Bordeaux with whom we work closely”.
There have been some very interesting stories out this week about the continued fall out of Chateaux & Estates (subsidiary of Diageo) pulling out of Bordeaux in the US market after 35 years of being the major buyer of en primeur wines.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100202/lf_afp/franceusdrinkwineindustrybordeaux_20100202053025 (from journalist Suzanne Mustacich)
http://thepour.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/filling-a-gap-in-the-bordeaux-market/ (back in December from New York Times)
So I was very interested to receive a press release from Château Gruaud Larose in Saint Julien concerning the steps that they have taken.
Apparently, the chateau has just bought back 15 different vintages of its wines from US importer Chateau & Estate Wines.
'After years of strong sales, Gruaud Larose considered the opportunity to re-build its famous oenotheque going down to 1815 through this acquisition. Regarding recent vintages, Gruaud Larose will be in a position to respond favourably to the rising demand from clients based in Asia.
"When it was official that Chateau & Estate Wines was stopping everything and going to sell off its stock, immediately we were in contact," said Jean Merlaut, owner of Château Gruaud Larose, to the news agency AFP. “I considered to buy 2,700 cases of Gruaud Larose wines which were stocked in perfect conditions either in the US or still in our château. This a great opportunity for our oenotheque and Château Gruaud Larose, which is particularly appreciated in America, needed at the same time to protect wine merchants in order to help them to continue their business as usual. After many years of strong sales, Gruaud Larose needed to re-build its oenotheque and the perfect quality of Chateau & Estate Wines’ stock was an ideal opportunity.
Regarding recent vintages, Gruaud Larose will finally be in a position to respond favourably to the rising demand from clients based in Asia, a part of the world where our brand image has
developed strongly over the last few years. For the rest, I am pretty sure that some of these wines will return to the USA in a few years.”
At the end of a very interesting week taking 13 women winemakers around London, in our now fourth annual immersion week!
The winemakers have been to Tesco head office, to the brilliant Sampler wine shop in Islington (soon to open a second store in Kensington), to meet a sommelier organisation, and to meet the press team at Decanter.
One of the most interesting talks has been from Summit, the company responsible for all the promotions of Bordeaux wine across the UK. They gave a snapshot of the UK wine market, and how Bordeaux fits in to it.
A few of their findings:
Tesco and Sainsburys are 45% of UK market. Supermarkets in total are 70.6% of the market
Mail order and internet now up to 12% of market
Tesco next year are set to overtake Direct Wine in terms of market share with their online wine offering.
Sainsburys in 2010 are also expanding into mail order wine service.
France still dominant in the on-trade (the only sector where it is), but lost 2.5million cases last year.
In ontrade, 52.8% white, 12% rose (Doubled in two years) and rest is red.
Consumption 9 litres per capita in 1991 to 27l per capita in 2009 (bdx 1.7% of that) – was 3% in 1991. France had 35% of the market in 1991, has 15% today
New World had 5% in 1991, has 59% today. Own labels were 50% then, today are around 15%
Average price in the off-trade is £4.32 (up from £4.02 in 2007, but mainy due to VAT increases). France average price is £4.91.
Off licenses down 18% over 2009 mainly because of Threshers.
Under £4, france does very badly and has lost a lot of volume, because other countries do it better. But once you hit over £4, particularly £5plus, it is growing, and has been doing so consistently for the last few years. Bordeaux tends to lose in volume and gain in value.
Bdx 1.3 million cases in the UK – total of all the chtx.
Over £5 category for wine has grown by 34% in the last two years (07-09), and by 60% in the last 5 years.
21% of market is premium, over £5 (in UK) – and that works for Bordeaux. 21.3 million cases. France is second in this category, and Bdx is 25% of that. Bdx currently has 7% of the over £5 market in the UK.
(Australia is still number one in this +£5 category, mainly for wines that are priced between £5 and £6)
79% of market is under £5.
Average price of a Bdx wine in the UK is £6.20
The main opportunities identified for Bordeaux were:
Capitalising on its reputation
Converting new consumers who have grown up on New World wine
Breadth of offer/home of varietals
Growth of £5+
Association with food
Promoting their white and rose offerings
Gaining a larger share of internet and small specialist stores
As 2010 gets underway, Bordeaux is already thinking about the en primeur week in early April. I thought I would kick off the year with an interview I had with Nick Pegna, managing director Berrys Hong Kong. I did this interview in October 2009, but have just got round to writing it up in its entirety, as it is relevant to an article I am currently writing on wine storage. Sorry for the delay Nick!
The 09 vintage. ‘My first reaction after hearing reports of the quality was not dismay, but concern. Of course we all want great wine, but is the market ready? There is a difference between the perception of quality and the reality of market conditions.’
‘But quality vintages always have their place, and are a benchmark of what Bordeaux can do.
Everything I have heard is that they will draw a line in the sand and say ‘this is what these wines are worth’.
'I do have a slight concern for merchants stretching the credulity of their customers to say four years later that here is another vintakge of the century – and I find it hard to believe it can be as good as 2005. It will be a tough sell to those who bought into the concept of 2005.
'From a market persective thing we are in a strong position in this part of the world. Of course the downturn is tough, and a double dip is possible, but we are in a good position in Hong Kong. No real exchange rate issues, and more importantly people are still enjoying the feeling of prosperity – they are still in jobs, still making money, no great interest rate rises, overall the mood is quite positive, restaurants and hotels are full and a huge amount of business in being done in fine wine.‘
‘Certainly there is a feeling that the centre of influence is shifting. If first growths release at 275/300 euros a bottle, Europe will say it is too much, and the speculative money has been swallowed up even if they want it. But here is Aisa, there is still an appetite for it.’
‘Wine now goes to Asia and it stays there. It’s not a bubble being created... great bottles are coming here, and are being druink. But there is an assumption from chateaux owners that China will open up tomorrow. There is no particular indication that this is going to happen – no change in duty on wine as yet. Korea has just announced it will bring duty down, and feel more and more that this region is in a better position to negociate, particularly if existing positions in the US are not being taken up. If you are a collector of fine wines, the auctions in Hong Kong are a pretty happy place to be, and since the introduction of 0% duty, we have never been busier.’
'For the UK, the weak pound is a substantial benefit right now, because current stocks are cheap and so sell well. But once those stocks are depleted, replenishing will be much more expensive, so as the market becomes less competitive, the honeymoon period will come to an end.
'But I think the relevance of the UK market is not going to diminish, because still have fanstastic trading relationships, and if you want big allocations, you still often have to go through UK merchants.'
'Maybe we can exclude the UK and the US from the vintage in a major way, and perhaps Asia will become the most important buyer for the first tine. It started to happen with the 2008 vintage, when Berrys for the first time sold more en primeur in Hong Kong than in London for the first time. 80% of our business is in Hong Kong and China.
The concept of en primeur is not easy if you have just started getting involved in fine wine. It’s a mistake of course to write off the traditional markets. We are enjoying a buoyant market in Asia, but no one is saying that Eruope and the UK is over. Appetite to spend on wines may not be there right now, but it will come back. But I do believe that for first growths, sales are permanently shifting. Today, we sell big quantities of Lynch Bages, but sell more first growths than we do seconds and thirds, and that seems to me a fundamental change.’
Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing – there is ia thirst for these wines there, and they are not buying just for the image, as perhaps happened in Japan in the 1980s and 90s, they are buying to drink. Also true of Burgundy – we sell more Romanee Conti than almost any other Burgundy wine. Just yesterday we sold £3/4 milion of Romanee conti to a private collctor, and there is no chance that will ever go back on the secondary market, he’s going to drink that.’
‘They buy as collectors, but when it comes to selling, it becomes a consumer product and they want to enjoy it.’
Following on from the Carbon Initiative begun last year by the Bordeaux Wine Bureau (with aims to reduce emissions by 75% by 2050), Bordeaux wine consultant Olivier Dauga has taken a leading role in ensuring it reaches its commitment.
As an influential consultant in the region, working with over 30 properties, Dauga is using his role
to convince wine producers to adopt a more environmental-friendly approach to their winemaking.
‘We need to be thinking together about how we can protect our environment and our cultural
heritage for future generations. I believe that organic winemaking doesn’t go far enough, and it is
difficult to follow financially. Instead, this Charter is based upon common sense, and practical
ways to lower carbon footprint while making natural, healthy wines.’ says Dauga.
The charter has taken nearly a year to research and compile, helped by Geology Masters researcher
Romain Leycuras. Launched this week, Dauga hopes to begin rolling it out with his clients in early
The Charter looks at key stages across the entire winemaking cycle, and suggests concrete ways
to optimise energy consumption, to reduce dependence on non-renewable sources of energy, to
phase out use of herbicides, to apply prevention rather than cure measures against disease, to
respect treatment thresholds, to encourage biodiversity, and to ensure reduced use of sulphur in
‘There are many practical ways which ensure clean, clever winemaking and keep the quality of our
wines paramount,’ says Dauga. ‘Part of the solution is using sensible viticulture such as clearing
weeds away manually and not using treatments, and partly it is understanding as new
technologies evolve to help us find ecologically-sound solutions. Part of my job with this charter
will be to ensure my clients know not just what is out there, but what is coming.’