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01/07/2013

Comments

George

You don't need to be a sommelier or wine writer to see that Bordeaux has steadily declined into a self-imposed funk over the past few decades. Classified growths are now priced far beyond the means of actual wine drinkers/appreciators, and much of the rest of the region's product has become increasingly new world-like, extracted and fruit forward in style. It's just incredibly boring, especially compared to other regions in the world that being so innovative. I guess there must be cool people in Bordeaux who are going in a different direction, but is anyone watching or writing about them?

Chateaulerait.wordpress.com

As next generation smallscale Bordeaux producer I would like to offer my perspective on the problems of the region.

On the one hand you have 50-100 classified / big / acknowledged growths. They have no problems whatsoever and will perpetually sell their entire production at high prices dictated by Bordeaux negociants & Parkerpoints. On the other hand you have 8-10,000 small producers, less known, sold at lesser prices and prone to crisis as the rest of the world.

So, let’s not worry too much about the classified growths. They will sustain forever. The problem lies with us, the smallscale producers. This is why we need to reinvent ourselves. But in my opinion we are not allowed to do that. Why?

I believe that way too much effort is put into the marketing of - and thereby generation attention on - the lucky few i.e the classified growths who could easily do without it. The responsibility for this lies with Bordeaux' wineprofessional organization CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Bordeaux) who have their attention tied up solely in helping the chateaux of Pauillac, Saint-Julien etc because... Well why? I think that they believe the classified growths to be the real and only future of the Bordeaux region and thus the best way to spend marketing money. I strongly disagree.

This lack of marketing and general lack of dialogue aiming our way holds the problem that we as smallscale producers don’t get any help getting our message out to potential customers around the globe. This makes us believe that we are stuck with what we got: 1) negociants offering (low) prices based on the name Bordeaux instead of looking to quality and 2) private customers whom we compete for with the rest of the wineworld.

This int turn forces us to stick with what seems to be the only asset we have in this competition - our name. Therefor we (or at least my fathers generation 60+) act out of fear. Scared of loosing our appellation-based asset we follow the directions of laboratories and uniform our wines in stead of nurturing an emerging need to innovate and do things just a little bit differently from our neighbour.

Let me give an example. Geographically we live closer to Bergerac than to Bordeaux. We have made organic wine since 1980 when my father left the cooperative. We do not make Pontet Canet but we make good, honest to good, traditional, terroir-driven everyday wine. Our laboratory enologists have a thing with brett, though. Every millesime we have to quarrel over 1 or 2 cuves which the technicians believe to be brett-infected. Proposed measure of control? Throw in some copeaux! The point being that Quali-Bordeaux want all petit bordeaux to taste the same. I understand it from a theoretical point of view - that the appellation must show some uniformity to be graspable to the consumer. But from a qualitative, terroirbased and innovative point of view...? I beg to differ. I’d rather take my chances that Quali-Bordeaux either have some kind of senses or that they don’t pull any of our bottles from the shelves.

As George suggests, Bordeaux wine has become boring and predictable. I say: Bordeaux should - and do - offer so much more than the classified growths respectively the New World-imitating fruit bombs. At least some of us try to orientate towards what eg Loire has done on the natural wine scene. What it takes is this: courage in a very conservative culture. What we ask for in return is a little confidence from the authorities. This has proven quite hard.

I long for the day when I get even a bit more courageous and skip the Bordeaux appellation declaring only Vin de France making my wine the way I want to. Not the way that I have to because I fear retaliation or fear to step on anyones toes. We the smallscale producers must come to see ourselves as the our own future instead of relying on a name that doesn’t belong to us anymore. Only then can true innovation in Bordeaux start.

Jon Capoul Hoyrup
Château Le Raït

UCBeau

I spent a week in Bordeaux this past September, tasting Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur wines. No classified growths or Cru Bourgois for us. While I did see a lot of machines, a necessity in a 160 hectare vineyard, I didn't see much in the way of "additives" (you should have just said chemicals) being used there. Granted, my sample size is extremely small - 20 producers at most - the worst things I witnessed were some watering back of the must and fining/filtering. What I did taste though were some very compelling, clean, enjoyable red and white wines. My point is that Bordeaux is still producing delicious stuff, even if it doesn't fall under the false flag of "natural wine", you just have to wade through an ocean of generic tasting wines to find the little gems. As for that brett, didn't find any during my visit (thank god!). Cheers!!

Simonjwoolf

Alice,

I haven't read your original article (but look forward to reading the piece online here, when you publish).

On a visit to the AOC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur areas last summer (specifically to visit organic/biodynamic/natural producers), I was however heartened to find that there is innovation, a move to "natural" and some lipsmackingly good wine being made if one goes off the beaten track (this does of course echo what Jon Capoul Huyrup says above).

What I also found interesting was that all the producers I visited (and it was only 5, in two days) were exporting in reasonable quantity to the US - and not to the UK. In the UK, if it's not a classed growth, it tends to be regarded with suspicion as cheap filth - or will be a big brand sold in a supermarket. And of course this ignores all of the interesting stuff in the middle.

I wrote about the properties I visited in this article:

http://palatepress.com/2012/08/wine/natural-bordeaux-how-the-petits-chateaux-are-making-waves/

Alicefeiring

Hi Simon, there's a more readable PDF now on the site, I hope you do read it. Yes, Tire Pé is doing great work, and the small houses are doing okay, at excellent value. But what I'm wondering is what is the sparkling wine in Jean-Pierre Raymond's hand?

Alicefeiring

Dear Jon, Actually one of the problems the appellation has (as I see it, and I hear it from them) is that well- there's a whole lot to sell other than the top growths, and they don't know how to sell them. Perhaps we'll see the toppling of the top dogs, because you can't really talk the terroir game if you abuse it so clearly.

The small houses who, like you, work well and make good wine, they'll find their way into good glasses. The good thing about the natural wine movement is that drinkers just don't care about the appellation any more. If they know the vigneron, or know someone who does, and knows the wine is delicious that's all that is needed.

Yukonjen.wordpress.com

Hello Alice,

You mention in your comments that a more readable PDF is online. Can I ask where?

Thanks,
Jennifer

Chateaulerait.wordpress.com

Simon - very interesting post on Palatepress! You point out what I believe to be very accurate: that a lot of professionals perceive the whole of Bordeaux to be one and that our wines all show the same caracteristics. The paradox is that to some extent they are actually right. Because, as you suggest Alice, of course, if each vigneron makes good wine it will automatically find its way to consumers who appreciate it. BUT if we are not supported in this effort and have to experiment and innovate at our own cost, a lot of small vignerons will tend to stay within the frames of the uniformity that Simons professionals point to.

I absolutely agree with you Alice that the future for small bordeaux vignerons is to go our own way and appreciate that consumers know us by the person or style much more than by the appellation. However this does not happen by itself and overnight. So we can't really rely on selling solely to this type of consumer. For now, we need the Bordeaux name on the label so we can also target other consumer groups.

Also, we need help locating the type of consumer who doesn't buy wine because of the appellation name but because of the name of the vigneron. But instead we are thwarted by our own local body of authorities (Quali-Bordeaux & CIVB) who try to impose on us to make boring wine in order to live up to their definition of the appellation name instead of helping us finding this much more interesting consumer which would be beneficial to all parties (i.e this effort would not undermine neither the Bordeaux name nor the classified growths).

Clearly I don't oppose to having the name Bordeaux on my labels. This is not a crusade to me. Only, I stress that in return for representing the appellation we need the help that comes in the form of marketing efforts as well as a little confidence from the authorities that petit Bordeaux can actually be something other than mainstream. So, if only we could have a lot more attention directed towards posts as this and Simons a new agenda for our beautiful region might be on the way :-)

Jon

Alicefeiring

Jon, The problem is the same all over France, but some people manage to get the appellation even though their wines are outside of the 'norm.' Most prominently, Chateau Meylet.Very curious how these continue to get the Saint-Emilion, it's the only non-S02 Bordeaux that I know of and has a very different taste profile.

Perhaps part of the answer is more legal action, such as the CAVB. Unfortunately they lost their case against the CIVB to get their dues back. Do you know if they will be appealing? Never the less, the more cases like this are brought against the authorities, the more they will be forced to ponder and perhaps change. Wine is not cookie cutter and one can't apply the same recipe to wine as they can to soda.

Alicefeiring

Jen, if you click on the images above, I've plunked in the better copies.
And thanks for subscribing to the newsletter!

Chateaulerait.wordpress.com

Yes, it's beautiful isn't it - cotisations volontaires obligatoires! The paradox cries to heaven. Only in France, I tell you, only in France! :-) I'm afraid I don't know of the current situation - if the CAVB people are going to be appealing their case or not. I sure hope so.

What I can tell you though, is that the CIVB and the Quali-Bordeaux are putting their regimentation-thumbscrews on us to such an extent that the talk around at least my region is one of concern. Concern that the diversity in petit bordeaux will be a thing of the past within a few years. A lot of guys don't have the Sisyfos energy to keep rolling that goddam stone uphill.

I consider that to be an enormous pitty. And as a matter of fact not only a concern restricted to my region Sainte Foy la Grande. It's much bigger than this. In my opinion this discussion has ties to much larger subjects such as food education, taste, development of food preferences etc. Just as we teach our children to try to eat a varied diet, so goes it with wine. If the wines we put on our tables all taste the same, it makes us poorer in spirit, we give up and end up drinking Coca Cola. We need the diversity. It has to be part of life!

Jon

BottleDJ

Alice, Jon, Simon and UCBeau,

I just want to tip my hat to the high level of ideas being exchanged here it is refreshing to see.

I am hoping to see a wave of interesting Vin de France coming from vineyards that would otherwise qualify for AOP status. In a twisted way I can understand why the powers that be would not want to the AOP standards deviate.

The first growths are not in my price range, and the wines from lower classifications often seem like they are imitations of the more expensive ones.

Simonjwoolf

Alice,

The Raymond Cremant de Bordeaux is called "La Joly Ivresse", (or "the drunken lady") - a nice play on their premium red cuvée "La Joly", probably one of the most poised and elegant Malbecs I've tasted in a while (admittedly Tire Pé "Les Malbecs" runs it very close).

I don't recall exactly what La Joly Ivresse is made from, but do remember it being damn tasty! We drank it with desert, if memory serves.

Simon.

Chateaulerait.wordpress.com

Alice,

I now read your books "How I saved.." and "Naked Wine". What great reads! I absolutely loved both books and put them right up there on my wine literature pedestal along with Kermit Lynch's "Wine Route.." Also, I really like your, may I say, slightly oppositional character working as a driving force through the books. I can see where your love for vin nature comes from :-)

Reading the books I kept thinking back to our little discussion here above. The book I would also really love to see from your hand is the one about how the SYSTEM ('system' not only conceived as the Parker-culture but more profoundly as a "legal-marketing-appellations-big cooperation"-kind of conglomerate) tries to deny all diversity and point to a one-only possible direction for winemaking within each appellation. You referred a bit to that point yourself mentioning the CAVB guys. Really, it extends the comprehension of parkerization because one fine morning wine drinkers all over the world could unanimously (will they ever?) stop believing the points. But the winemakers cannot stop believing in the system or at least we cannot fail to relate to its lab oenologues, its appellations regulations, and when it performs never ending controls in our vineyards/ wineries/on the shelves at retail where our wines are sold etc. Declaring as Vin de France is of course one way to deal with this. But there's a long way from being a small producer hanging on to what you got in daily life just coping with these challenges and then to making what appears to be a huge leap into producing only Vin de France with the risk of alienating your old customers.

To me this is a tremendously interesting problem and one that I actually link to the parkerization. It really is the good guys vs the bad guys, or the ones with a lot of money dictating the way of things vs small scale guys like myself who get run over by big organizations (if they are not cunning enough) that care only for big growths and China export numbers.

The dire question is if the wine world will be able to keep its diversity when a number of appellations strong-arm producers into making less interesting, less inspired wines that look a lot alike, the interesting stuff often getting sacrificed on the alter of "pas conforme aux standards de l'appellation". Of course you have your Loire rock'n'roll guys. And I do salute them. But at what point does vin nature or maybe even "vin nature out of Loire" as a concept become hyped to an extent that it overcomes itself? Therefore there is a supplementary angle to the system vs little guy-conflict, namely the question of what the next Loire is going to be? In the little wine makers fight against overall uniformization he will have to do something differently - what will he be doing? And where are we seeing the trends to confirm that?

That is a book I would love to read. Hell, I'll even co-write it. Just say when! :-)

Thanks again for great books and an inspirational peek into your journeys in the wine world as an advocate of how to do things just a little differently. Thank you.

Jon

Alicefeiring

Jon, thanks for going out and reading my books, and coming back with another thoughtful comment. The book would be a good one, but I might have hung up my wine book hat. Just might have. Might. Have.-Alice

Chateaulerait.wordpress.com

No no, Alice, please don't stop writing wine books. Bob jr. & co would be much too secure. Your approach is the kind of subtle rebellion the wine world needs. Jon

Arsène Bacchus

Very interesting article

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I'm hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world. I want them natural and most of all, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. With this messiah thing going on, I'm trying to swell the ranks of those who crave the differences in each vintage, celebrate nuance and desire wines that make them think, laugh, and feel. Welcome.
And, if you'd like a signed copy of either THE BATTLE FOR WINE AND LOVE OR HOW I SAVED THE WORLD FROM PARKERIZATION or NAKED WINE, feel free to contact me directly.