Following the demise of Sauternes property Chateau Broustet and its sale to an Italian buyer in late September, it’s all guns blazing for the family’s other property Chateau Saint-Marc.
Export and marketing manager, Guillaume Forcade had fought valiantly to save his family’s chateau with savvy marketing and sales. He had packaged some of the estate’s wines in test tubes and the brand had become involved in Vogue and Mercedes parties but it was too little too late and he is now concentrating his efforts on Saint-Marc.
The wine will be available in tubes during French Tuesdays in San Francisco. Whether you drink it “from the tube or slipped inside a handbag”, it’s certainly a different approach for a very traditional appellation. No glass; no foie gras? God forbid, the wrinklies won’t like it.
However, the whole sweet wine market faces an uphill battle with sales in freefall. The French have cut their Sauternes consumption from 83,536hl in 1999/2000, to 54,477hl in 2008/09. The appellation’s vineyard area has fallen from 4139ha to 3773ha in the same period. At the very least, it’s going to take young blood with new ideas to stem the tide. Good luck to them, they are going to need it.
Suspicions that the 2008 Mouton-Rothschild label would be designed by a Chinese artist were confirmed last week.
Prices have been creeping up in the past 12 months amid the speculation. Since Xu Lei was announced as the artist, prices went up 20% overnight. According to Fine & Rare Wine’s market data tool (frw.co.uk), a year ago, you could pick up the 96 Parker point wine for £2800; now you’re looking in the region of £8750. A 211% rise in value.
The Mouton move followed Chateau Lafite’s announcement that the 2008 vintage would feature the Chinese number eight symbol on the bottle. The wine’s value has since surged. In the past twelve months, the price has increased from £4857 to £15,303– a rise of 215%.
Which brings me to ask the question – why aren’t other producers doing the same thing? A New World producer with some traction in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai would be pretty smart to follow the likes of Mouton and Lafite. If a Kiwi winery – say Craggy Range, Te Mata or Villa Maria employed the services of a Chinese artist or designer for their top Bordeaux blend (Sophia, Coleraine and Twyford Single Vineyard respectively) it woud be incredible PR – increasing awareness, sales and possibly prices. Surely, it couldn’t be that difficult and a cost benefit analysis would no doubt conclude benefit benefit benefit.
Guillaume Forcade is a dynamic young man who has spent the past year trying to save his family’s chateau from going under. He was too late.
The Barsac estate was sold on September 30th to an Italian buyer, Taillan, which owns wine merchant Ginestet and a number of Bordeaux chateaux including Gruaud Larose and Chasse Spleen.
It is sad for the company since Forcade had been working his butt off to raise the company’s profile and injecting a breath of fresh air into the appellation. He had packaged some of the estate’s wines in test tubes and the brand had become involved in Vogue and Mercedes parties.
Forcade said: “It is difficult to accept the end when the latest developments we made to improve the quality, the brand and the export market were finally giving extremely good results.” It was too little too late.
The sale reflects a malaise in Sauternes/Barsac. The domestic market is the most important for Sauternes, representing more than 70% of all sales. The French have cut their Sauternes consumption from 83,536hl in 1999/2000, to 54,477hl in 2008/09. The appellation’s vineyard area has fallen from 4139ha to 3773ha in the same period.
Forcade added: ‘It is incredibly sad but selling Sauternes has been very difficult for all of us in the appellation. For a grand cru classé owner like my family, who bought the estate with the help of banks, the huge debts have been just too difficult to face with the economic downturn the whole region of Sauternes has endured for the past ten years.”
The average consumer is over 60 years old (CIVB research) and it needs to find new drinkers. It also needs to encourage all consumers to see sweet wine as a year-round drink – not just for Christmas. Sweet Bordeaux is trying to do this. But with little marketing money, limited awareness of their consumer base and a plethora of marketing/organisational bodies within the small appellation, it’s not going to be an easy task.
The Forcade family are still the owners of Château Saint-Marc, the immediate neighbour of Château Broustet, an estate in the family since the 18th century.
Despite the setback, Forcade is not giving up. He promises blog pages, video teasers and launching Saint-Marc wine in tubes in the US at the end of November. The sun may have set on Broustet but I suspect Saint-Marc is entering a new dawn if Forcade has anything to do with it.
Looking to invest in a wine that won’t cost you an arm and a leg but could pay handsome rewards? The word on the street is buy Chateau Lynch-Bages.
While researching another topic entirely for Decanter magazine, Lynch-Bages was the hot tip on all the wine merchants’ lips. Since the 2009 vintage was released, there’s a belief that this Pauillac chateau has set out its stall for the future – it is going to be a wine for the rich.
I remember my dad buying the 2000 when it came out en primeur as something to drink. It was a little more expensive than the usual crap he buys but it wasn’t overpriced. He’s now seen what it’s worth today (£1579, according to the new market data tool at Fine+Rare Wines) and can’t bring himself to drink something so expensive (I’ve offered to help him out if he needs some encouragement pulling the corks).
With the release of the 2009 at an all-time high, it has raised the bar for the future. Simon Staples, fine wine director at Berry Bros & Rudd, advises: “I would buy any vintage of Lynch-Bages under £700. The 2009 vintage has marked a new price point that won’t come down.”
Inevitably, the Far East has boosted demand for the wine and the price has risen accordingly. Alan Liu, sommelier at The French Window in Hong Kong, explains: “Lynch-Bages is really easy to pronounce here. We sell it to them as ‘Lansey Barr’ as that’s how it is said in Cantonese.”
So, how much can you expect to pay at the moment? The 2005 (91 Parker points) started life at under £500 en primeur, it’s now trading at £796 – which is still relatively good value when you look at the 2000 which is trading at £1579 and the 2009 at £1036.
However, the value really lies in those lesser vintages where Lynch-Bages performed well. The 2008 (91-93 points) can be picked up for the £600 mark, the 2006 (92 points) for £620 and the 2004 (also 92 points) for £618. I think I’m going to follow my own advice and pick up a few cases.
Staples adds: “Lynch-Bages has always done the investor very well. The quality of the wine has got infinitely better in the past years.”
Sauternes is not just for Christmas – or to drink with foie gras. That’s the message that the sweet Bordelais want to tell the world with a marketing budget under 500,000 euros each year.
The old foie gras/blue cheese and Sauternes are so deeply entrenched that it’s going to have to take one enormous effort to alter perceptions.
Thomas Dejean of Chateau Rabaud Promis, admits: “Sauternes, foie gras, Sauternes, foie gras. It’s a reflex. We have to create more moments. As an aperitif, it’s fantastic – like a Sauvignon Blanc it’s incredibly aromatic.” Yes, but it’s not dry Thomas – and that’s the issue.
There certainly are plenty of other occasions that you can drink Sauternes but it’s a bit of a push to serve it at every course. Similarly, the Champenois try and force fizz down your throat at every course too, and that gives you really bad guts and makes you yearn for a still wine.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that there were some fantastic combos thanks to ex-sommelier and consultant chef, Georges Gotrand. He works his dishes around the wines – not something every chef would do for a sweet wine but then he’s getting paid to do it.
Nevertheless Chinese-style chicken marinated in sesame oil and soya sauce with coriander was sticky and viscous and a lighter-style Cadillac worked famously with it.
Likewise curried monkfish with dried coconut and an ‘04 Sauternes both married well. The sweetness complementing the delicate spices and the viscosity of the wine working with the creaminess of the sauce.
There were plenty of surprising matches and I have to say it did change my mind but will I get a bottle of sweet Bordeaux out next time I have a coconut-based curry? I’d like to say yes but then I’d probably be lying.
The thought of running a marathon makes my knees sore. The lunacy of running that far doesn’t stop plenty of unfit people from giving the 26 miles/42 km a crack. If I ever were to take on the distance, it would probably be in the Medoc, running past the chateaux along the Left Bank with a swarm of runners in fancy dress. However, the thought of getting passed by a runner in a rhino suit or Superman outfit would be too humiliating to bear.
The Medoc marathon already has two rival events in the region – in Blaye and Gujan-Mestras. But three marathons isn’t enough for the Bordelais, so next year the sweet wine appellations of Sauternes and Barsac are launching their own marathon. Put the 4 June 2011 in your diary and get training. The appellation’s wine body, the ODG, have been the driving force behind the marathon and producers will open up their cellar doors for tastings while the marathon winds through the area’s vineyards. There’s even talk of putting on swish dinners at the chateaux for the runners. I’m not sure if foie gras and running are much of a match, however.
It’s hoped there will be 800 participants. Will you be one of them?
I’ve never been a dog person. I was once attacked on Skinningrove beach on a school trip by an Alsatian and have not been a fan of the canine family since.
So, I can’t say I was too happy in the sweet wine appellations of Bordeaux this week when every resident appeared to have an aggressive dog on their property. The first dog I met at Chateau Biac, Charlie, was no worries although it took a liking to my left shin and insisted on licking it at any opportunity. I tried to tell it I had recently showered but it didn’t seem to care.
My next run in with a chien was just 12 hours later with my nemesis – an Alsatian – at Ch. Rabaud Promis in Sauternes. Thank God, it was elderly and didn’t seem that interested in any of my body parts. However, it turned out the dog liked Sauternes and every time we went to spit on the gravel drive (no spittoons here) its party trick was catching whatever we spat out.
Cycling around Sauternes is a great way to see the area although if you’re on the road between Chateau d’Yquem and Ch. Raymond Lafon, watch out for a ferocious Jack Russell. Once again, the French dog was going for my legs, trying to bite my ankles. I don’t think I’ve cycled so fast in a long while trying to get away from it. Unfortunately the tourist office’s bikes are not exactly racing bikes so while my legs were going like billy-o, the Jack Russell was managing to keep up. I finally shook it off after a couple of hundred metres.
Bear in mind, this was all within a 24-hour period. I was yapped at by many dogs throughout the cycle ride but luckily they were fenced in.
My dog problems were not over, however. My last visit in Loupiac involved a rottweiler. it burst through some bushes and went for us. I froze, thinking Lady Luck had deserted me. Baring its teeth and barking, my blood pressure was on the up. Suddenly it jerks backwards and the metal chain around its neck has extended as far as it can. Suddenly, it’s funny. Nevertheless, I might invoke a no-dogs policy on my next trip to a wine region.
It’s good to see Bordeaux taking the bull by the horns and admitting things have gone slightly awry for the majority of the region’s wine industry.
It has recognised that beyond the prized ‘classed growths’, the financial state and the structure of the region’s grape growers and winemakers is pretty dire. The economic crisis has precipitated their demise but it was always coming, particularly with the decline in consumption in the domestic market.
While it is widely recognised that Bordeaux is the most prestigious region in the world, the generic brand has been damaged by low quality players who provide poor value for money. Bordeaux under £10? I wouldn’t bother.
The region is too serious and elitist compared to Australia, for example. The labels are confusing and the wines can be somewhat austere when tasted next to friendly, fruit-filled New World Cabernets.
Bordeaux Tomorrow is a 27-page plan to address the region’s strengths and weaknesses on a global stage.The main points are:
-make the offer easier to read by the consumer
-enhance the level of perceived quality
-help non-competitive players to become more successful
-encourage consolidation of cooperatives
-become stronger in generic appellations
-fight counterfeit wines
The scheme will be rolled out over the next three years.
Part of the plan is to categorise the wines in a similar vein to Wine Australia. It does not have Brand Champions or Regional Heroes but Art, Exploration, Fun and Basique. This seems rather airy-fairy to me but we’ll see what they do with it. It looks like they’re going to try and select a small selection of wines in each category for particular export markets to fight the good fight.
They don’t say how much money is going to be behind this new push but they will need more than simply good intentions to make this a success.