Why Big Red Diary?

random ruminations…

There’s (clearly) not much of a concept for this particular ‘Report’, rather a collecton of happenstance visits and chance meetings. But watch out, the focus of the Summe issue will be sharp beyond belief ;-)

Pricing and the rise of the competent burgundy
Well we all saw the prices during the London 2010 En-Primeur jamboree and it seems that the simple summary is thus:

If everybody talks about the wines, you might still be able to afford some, but it turns out that there are none for you to buy. The stuff you can buy is not particularly expensive, but you don’t know anything about it.

essentially we are today all having to buy things from less well-known makers, often with less critical commentary, instead having to accept the incantations of trusted merchants (it was once only like this) – fortunately we are living in an era when competent Burgundy is rather easier to find. And the reason why we are buying blind?

Pretty-much all the names I started buying in the mid to late 1990s are now priced beyond what I personally consider ‘reason’ i.e. a premium of at least 200% versus roughly equivalent bottles. This is overwhelmingly the market-led, rather than producer-led, result of a popular clamour for the bottles – resellers achieve the maximum price for bottles, earning far more than the producer who invested their time and energy in the vineyard and cellar. I really can’t blame producers who look at this disparity and decide that increasing prices is their only way to claw back some cash. If you have been a personal customer of most of these domaines, you may have noticed very little difference – except, perhaps, a dwindling number of bottles – but if you have regularly bought from a coterie of merchants, you will have been between a rock and a hard place. I realise I am a small part of the problem, but clearly continuous critical reference to certain producers is the root cause – that and the wines being very decent!

The US model of a mailing list has been successfully deployed by Ray Walker of Maison Ilan and has the potential to be the basis of a more stable producer-customer relationship. Of-course that’s a relationship that cuts out the traditional merchant and is only sustained if you can actually come to terms with the ‘logistics’ of buying direct – nobody said it would be easy!

And while we are on the (regular) subject of pricing, I thought I should update my annual look at ‘early en-primeur’ and, from a long-range perspective, show you how the prices for ‘early adopters’ is bubbling along – the ‘jamboree-pricing’ doesn’t always have to be the way! I almost always buy a few six-packs from this offer, but this year I’m holding back on buying – I want to be sure that the 2011s turn out in bottle as nice as they currently taste in barrel and tank.

Shark-Infested Waters
Apparently everyone was taken in by a character called Rudy K; high rollers, wannabe high rollers, and the auctioneers too, and because of this, everyone is a loser. Did Rudy K. start out with the intention to fake and defraud or did he slowly wake up to the possibility to add a few million dollars per year to his deposit account? It is seemingly the same path followed by one man who called himself Rodenstock, who first flattered and ultimately entangled half of the British wine-writing establishment, Rudy K was simply the new transatlantic version. However Rudy K. came across to start with, the luxury of hindsight indicates nothing more than a well thought-out ‘pump and dump’ strategy from the very early days – maybe right from the start.

But it’s not just individuals who are losers, where does it leave the auction market, particularly those auction houses that sold the the bulk of the wines ex Rudy K.? The cloud over them you would think was massive and mushroom-shaped, yet the auction world seems to live in its own little bubble – where was the scepticism at the Spectrum-Vanquish London auction? Where will all the buyers come from for Spectrum’s follow-up auction at the end of the month that followed? Purely from the perspective of an observer, I can’t wait to see if the bubble of recent prices made for trophy DRC will be pricked by a lack of confidence, or whether they will spike even further for ‘known provenance’ – April auctions in Asia hint to the latter!

Many of us (I’m quite sure) feel zero sympathy for the braggarts who assailed us with the cases of ‘Romanée-Conti 1945′ they had drunk, and whilst the majority of us will not directly be touched by this, I still think that we are all the poorer for it. As a caveat, I really should note that Rudy K. has been found guilty of nothing so far, but if you read the FBI submission (in full!) and see (above) the tricks of Rudy K.’s trade, from his own kitchen, there seems no place to hide…
Image and pdf via the excellent reporting of Mike Steinberger at winediarist.com, but the hub of the unfolding story is to be found at wineberserkers.com

The rise of the machines
It is purely by chance (honest!) that three of the domaines covered in this issue, are the three who use the Vistalys grape-sorting machine at harvest time. This is a computer-controlled, optical system where individual grapes that do not fit certain criteria (for retention) are ejected with a blast of high-pressure air. Now these are expensive machines, but their current ownership (Jadot, Girardin and Pousse d’Or) obviously find value in what they purchased – Allen Meadows certainly seems to have a thing for Pousse d’Or wines 2009-onwards – I’m quite a bit less enthusiastic, but that’s for another reason.

As a seasoned ‘triageur’ (I think I just made that word up!) I’m not concerned that my raison d’etre seems to have been discarded, but I do wonder if the machine allows some abdication of responsibility – I’d still need to check the machine, but clearly it works in such an indefatigable way that it surely outshines the vast majority of those that trie – concentration of 12 hours can certainly wane!

I guess the only disadvantage of the Vistalys (having long-since jettisoned ‘cost’) is a stylistic one – you can’t make whole bunch fermentations! Okay, you can, but only by a ‘positive selection’ as the machine can only work with destemmed grapes. Which means you can still make wine with ‘x-percent’ whole clusters, but not whole, whole-cluster. For those without a pressing wish to make wine with stems, it seems a valuable tool in the armoury of those wanting to produce ever-better wine!

One response to “random ruminations…”

  1. Michael Warner

    I understand from Remoriquet (although it might be I misunderstood) that a group of growers in Nuits have bought one together to share. Remoriquet’s approach to stems was already to de-stem, choose the best stems, and add them back to the fermentation – so I guess they have a way to get at least some of the whole bunch characteristics into the wine.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?