So yesterday I posted an on-the-spot snapshot of Sunday’s Geneva-Jayer sale, today I’ll make a few relevant points. It’s stating the obvious that a number of the bottles will certainly be corked – Jayer had some issues in the mid-1980s – but I believe that only two things really need to be addressed – pricing and worth.
Pricing – and Provenence – they cannot be separated
Let’s forget that this is wine for a moment; get a couple of egos in any auction room – regardless of what is being auctioned – and the prices will very quickly cease to reflect reality, or at least whatever was previously taken to be reality! And let’s be clear, there were many more than ‘a couple’ of well-healed egos represented here.
Then there is one small word to be considered – provenance.
Of course, the moment that wine is removed from a producer’s cellar – whatever the logistical chain – it becomes less ‘pure.’ This wine, came directly from Jayer’s cellar – Emmanuel Rouget says so, the daughters of Jayer who were at the auction and took part in a dinner to celebrate the auction, with the auctioneer at the 2* Michelin restaurant of the auction venue, also say so. In a world where most of the Jayer that’s offered for sale is potentially fake – and for some auction houses probably fake – it doesn’t get better than this. People connected to other auction houses and businesses associated with the sale or authentication of wine will snipe, and even concoct potential scenarios where these wines may still not be as purported – but if you must have Jayer – any Jayer for your own cellar – this was a one-off. In the modern world this was as good as it gets.
Of-course, in a world of Coravins and industrial duplication, once this wine is distributed around the world, pretty oak cases and new prooftags aside, you will never be able to look at it again with the same certainty – but if you must have Jayer – any Jayer for your own cellar – this was a one-off. In the modern world this was as good as it gets.
Of-course, the auctioneer, Baghera, began their business selling what at first glance looked like a lot of wine bearing multiple warning signs that the bottles were junk. And they have never meaningfully addressed the legitimate concerns of those that pointed to the inconsistencies of those bottles and labels – save for pulling a few lots out their auctions – but what happened to those bottles? Essentially, were the family of Jayer and Emmanuel Rouget not fully behind this exercise there would be no credibility. Baghera put on a great show – they also earned about chf 7 million from their commissions. Would I rather it was an auction house that established their credentials with impeccable wine of impeccable provenance – of-course – but if you must have Jayer – any Jayer for your own cellar – this was a one-off. In the modern world this was as good as it gets.
Of-course, the question on everyone’s lips now is ‘What does that mean for the pricing of the wines from Domaine de La Romanée –Conti?’ Can the village Vosne of Henri Jayer actually have more worth than a bottle of Romanée-Conti itself? As a one-off auction, it could; specific vintages aside, there is more Romanée-Conti every year. There is no more Jayer – no more real Jayer anyway. In the longer term, and in the absence of significant fiscal upheavals, this irrational exuberance is unlikely to abate – DRC will regain the top spot, it’s only a question time.
I’ve (allegedly) had two Jayers in my glass. The first I didn’t believe, the second was credible but not mind-bending.
Friends, colleagues and vignerons all attest to the greatness of what Jayer did, but I and they agree that in the modern vernacular of wine production, Jayer is not exceptional. In fact there are producers today that make wines that are probably better than those of Jayer – and so they should – because they have largely better weather today, a better technical understanding and better equipment. It’s not just those things though, it’s because they have built on what Jayer and others pioneered, aided in no small measure by having the type of money to invest in the tiniest of details that Jayer couldn’t have dreamed of.
Jayer was the best of his era, and whilst I believe his Cros Parantoux may have been better than his Richebourg – because it’s still like that chez Méo, at least for those two parcels and my palate – I doubt very much that it’s as good as La Tâche in the same vintage. That’s still a very high bar of achievement, mind!
Drinking Jayer is naturally about drinking exceptional wine, but it is more about the persona of Jayer and drinking history – history is special and finite – in this world it’s crushingly expensive too.
There are 3 responses to “the jayer millions – part 2”
A very good report, Bill, and I agree with almost all the points you make, taking issue only with the third from last paragraph.
I’ve been fortunate to have drunk a good number of Jayer wines over the years, and they still do stand out — but it is subtle, what he did, and if you don’t pay attention you can fail to appreciate it, as I did with the first several bottles I had back in the 1980s. But I’ve also seen very experienced and knowledgeable Burgundy fans correctly identify Jayer blind because it couldn’t have been anyone else.
I still believe he was the best ‘in his era’ Claude – and so do practically all the winemakers with whom I discuss this subject.
Winemaking is iterative – I’m quite sure that team Lafarge will tell you that they are better at what they do today, than they were 30+ years ago. Hail and frost excepted, the climate is much more benign too. The best producers today are not just the best because they have money – though that helps – it’s because they have taken what DRC, and Jayer, and Leroy have done, discarded what didn’t work for them and added other things that do.
NB It seems that Leroy remain the most innovative in the vines – if their paltry yields can be described within that context!
Bill — I think that EVERYONE would say that they’re making better wines now than they were 30 years ago, and the overwhelming number of cases, that’s true. But not in all — and that’s based on having tasted in many top cellars each year for over thirty years.
A friend of mine who was a great importer of Burgundies into the UK prior to his retirement once said that he thought that the general level of wine produced is much higher than it used to be, but the heights in the old days were higher. (He said that about 20-25 years ago, and I thought it true then, I think it may be less true or not true today.) Similarly, Laurent Ponsot has told me, as he’s probably told you, that he takes risks that others won’t take because he thinks they are necessary to make the greatest wines, but the downside of those risks is that the wines may be ruined.
Claude – Of-course the type of risks that Laurent makes were not part of Jayer’s approach – I don’t recollect ever reading that he harvested his grapes a week after most others had finshed – now that really is a risk!
In the end, I feel that this conversation is best suited to a table, some plates and some bottles – glasses would be good too. But in the end I believe that I’d still have to agree to disagree – outside of one or two mythical beasts such as a 1945 Romanée-Conti – and no-one would want to go back to that – the rose-tinted view simply doesn’t work for me…
Bill, I’m not entirely sure that this auction “was as good as it gets” in all respects. As could be seen in photos in the auction catalog, many of the fill levels were shockingly low for having come directly from Jayer’s own cellar. While this sale was certainly “as good as it gets” in terms of authenticity, I wouldn’t say that was the case with respect to the condition of the bottles. I visited Henri Jayer several times over the years and knew him well enough that we exchanged Christmas cards. I remember one particular tasting appointment at his winery during a hot spell. He greeted us bare-chested..yes, not even wearing a shirt. Although he grabbed an old pilled cardigan and put it on before leading us into the cellar for a barrel tasting, it was warm enough in there that he didn’t even bother to button the sweater and simply left it hanging open. Jayer’s cellar wasn’t all that deep (nothing like Lafon’s in Meursault, for example) and clearly didn’t have the benefit of clime (air conditioning). Frankly, I was a little taken aback, as in every other respect no winemaker in Burgundy was more obsessed with attention to detail.
In retrospect, it appears that the wines put up for sale a few years ago by his American importer, Martine Saunier, ought to be regarded as having better provenance even than those that sold on Sunday, as she kept her personal collection in her company’s temperature-controlled warehouse from the day the wines landed.
David – my thanks for your insights.
Of-course in terms of relative ‘quality’ you should be correct – many are the modest cellars without climate control in Burgundy – and most of registered 23°C in the summer of 2003! But by ‘as good as it gets’ I mean today. Maybe Martine’s wines were/still are better – but they have already lost their (still 2nd not 1st-hand) gold-plated provenance, that stable door long having been opened as they are in 3rd/4th hands now.
The only thing to note on levels, which were accurately described in the sale catalogue; only the Beaumonts had questionable levels (for the age of the wines), and not all of them – but it does indeed beg the question of whether all of these were stored in exactly the same location as the other cuvées…
Bill, thanks for the reporting, about 13-15 years ago had 2 (maybe 3) bottles of 1991 Jayer NSG at a restaurant in Evanston, IL USA. After a $200 bottle of 1983 Mouton, I knew this wine at $90 a bottle was a good deal (and it was stunning for an aoc wine). Didn’t realize how good a deal it was!