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The Louis Vuittonification of Burgundy

Sold!

Sold!

Burgundy, its market, and the big wall coming:

I have to say, extreme lover of Burgundy’s wine and people as I am, I have the fear that harder times lie ahead. I hate to write notes such as this, but whilst my reports of the actual wines of 2014 are laced with joy, my view of their market is becoming ever-darker.

Since 2005 there has been a step-change in global pricing. Unlike the decade of the 1990s where there was typically a small price increase each year to cover inflation (plus 5% on the price of the old bottles in the cellar), the prices of some domaines’ wines in the market have tripled – and more – often re-sellers earning much more money per bottle than the producers of those bottles. Critical and merchant hyperbole must bear a significant responsibility, but they cannot alone explain the ‘Louis Vuittonification’ of the produce of Burgundy. Each vintage being reported more in the manner of a fashion show with more articles devoted to the cost of the wines, than the contents of those bottles.

Since 2009 there have largely been small volume harvests – pity the poor vigneron(ne)s with vines from the centre of Meursault to Pernand-Vergelesses, three times hailed. The Côte de Nuits has also seen much lower harvest volumes but don’t for a moment think that there are not crocodile tears to be found at the premises of certain Côte de Nuits producers, increasing their prices 15% per year ‘in sympathy’ with their brothers and sisters in the Côte de Beaune – whilst making maximum yields… There will always be somebody!

Essentially the recent years’ marketing of Burgundy’s wines into new markets such as China, largely via Hong Kong, supported, since 2010, by a significant reduction in the output of the ‘famous domaines’ has been largely synergistic in terms of their effect on pricing – most obviously for an echelon of sought-after wines (and their vocal would-be buyers). The problem is that the increase of bulk prices for traditionally harder to sell labels has also tracked, at least to some extent, those most sought-after wines. Large negociants were trying to dampen down sales of Petit Chablis (2013) earlier this year as they were losing money on the bottles – because it’s a question of what the end market will pay for a bottle – a wall if you like – and bulk prices were/are too high for some merchanted grapes/must, to achieve that.

Burgundy has two large pricing problems – iniquities – one internal and one external.

  • Externally; if all the wines you would like to drink cost significantly more than, let’s say, Chianti-Classico – you will more often than not, buy the Chianti in a restaurant. Many, many restaurants who used to list villages and 1er Cru wines, have replaced them with Saint Romain and Rully – and even they are a hard sell. Anecdotally, the market for good burgundy ‘has tanked’ in France in the last six months. And I’m sure that it’s not just the case in France. Note, from a recent article in a trade-publication: “When you can get three [cases] of Haut-Brion for the same price of one [case] DRC Richebourg, is the price of rarity justified?” In my own opinion, maybe a small premium, but no more.
  • Internally; there is a problem of imbalance when villages wines from the Côte de Nuits such as Vosne, Gevrey and Chambolle typically cost more than great 1er Crus from the Côte de Beaune – whites included.
    Both of these problems need rectification.

But bulk pricing is multi-faceted; an undoubted driver is the lack of volume – historically such ‘volume-related’ price challenges have been moderated by large merchant houses or ‘maisons’ who would harness either their buying power, or their stocks, to moderate the ups and downs of pricing – but with consecutive low volume vintages, and empty warehouses, these maisons’ market-making ability has been massively curtailed.

The higher prices are, however, not just ‘yield-related;’ competition is also a large driver in the last vintages. Of-course competition will become stronger for a dwindling resource, but there are also so many new entrants who want to become negociants that the competition for grapes is further magnified.

The Hospices de Beaune wine auction was often seen as a barometer of pricing, but the increases of recent years, have more and more been dismissed as ‘its own thing, and a result only of charity’ yet we should not so easily dismiss this. The day after this year’s auction, the courtiers were indicating that anyone who HAD to buy today, would see 20% higher prices. Actual settlements have been nearer 10% for those who needed wine to fulfill orders, but that’s still another 10%, and overnight too! Perhaps the most recent increases can be attributed to the growing hype towards the 2015 (red) wines, but it seems that every year there yet another reason for more than a cost of living increase.

Land pricing and inheritance costs are certainly drivers that go all the way through the hierarchy of wines, so it’s not just the sought-after premier and grand crus that have problems, it’s also the more basic, volume oriented ‘commodity/everyday’ wines – at least the negociant versions. Established, low debt domaines have an advantage on pricing, but Dujac, for instance, have stopped making a négoce Morey-Saint-Denis, because it would have been more expensive than their domaine version [oops – see comment from Jeremy, below]. It IS still possible to find great pricing on Saint Aubin 1er Crus (less than €20 direct) and Beaune, Pommard and Volnay 1er Crus (less than €25, direct) from domaines – indeed many, many wines and of both colours – but the rest is becoming messy, indeed very messy in the Côte de Nuits.

Prices are also, slowly but surely, changing the culture in Burgundy too – and that’s my greatest personal worry. There’s an old saying that ‘In Bordeaux you can buy everything and taste nothing, but in Burgundy you can taste everything and buy nothing’ – well, I have the impression that that’s also changing. More and more doors are becoming closed to the casual visitor and the range of wines being offered to taste is shrinking as the grand cru bottles become ‘too expensive’ to open. For a long time the Bordeaux market was seen as the bad guy, but the market sentiment is also trending towards a similar impression of burgundy wine, with no nuance between Montrachet and Mâcon.

And the big wall coming?

Eventually, there’s got to be a market correction, maybe followed by a couple of, or more, years of introspection and pain. I’m sure that the pricing inertia will hold for the exceptional (weather) 2015s, particularly given the low volumes, but, for a moment, just imagine a 2016 vintage of high volume and average quality – who is going to buy at recent pricing? Or higher pricing? That would be the straw that breaks a camel’s back, at least for a period of re-alignment!

week 49…

A selection of producers in the bag from this weeks visits…

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a few pics from last days…

weekend stuff – three bull’s-eyes…

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2010 Camille Giroud, Bourgogne Cuvée L
Magnum – and how good was this! (That was a statement, not a question!) I’ve a magnum of the 08 waiting for Christmas but, for fun, thought I’d broach this. If you don’t know, the cuvée ‘L’ stands for ‘lees.’ The lees from all the reds in the cellar were assembled and left to settle for a few more months with the hope that they would become bright and clear – so ALL the reds, including the grand crus. This cuvée was made in at least 08-10 but not in recent years. The wine is big, open, and shows friendly red fruit on both the nose and palate. There’s a little comfort to the texture plus a weight of flavour that is clearly nothing to do with ‘bourgogne rouge.’ This was simply one of the most delicious young wines I’ve drunk this. 3 people devoured the bottle in no time. Bravo!
Rebuy – Yes

2010 Gilles Bouton, St.Aubin 1er En Remilly
Honestly, these 2010s were ‘very good , but not to the level of his 2009s’ for at least 6-12 months after release. But slowly and surely they got better. This has presence, lovely energy and complexity and a very fine line of flavour. I don’t suppose there’s a rush – I’ve never had an oxidised bottle (though I’ve also had none older than this), but this tastes first class right now – peaking? who knows, but lovely! Shame I’m down to my last couple – they only cost about €14 on release, the prices have increased massively since then – the 14s now cost all of €17!;-)
Rebuy – Yes

2003 Domaine des Chézeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin Clos des Chézeaux
Ooh – that smells good! Clearly there’s sweet, ripe fruit but padded out with the first layers of leafy development. In the mouth this a sweet, layered and very tasty wine – not obviously from Burgundy – a taster suggests a hint of Amaroné – and why not! A very honest wine – 2003 is exactly what it is – it’s also delicious!
Rebuy – Yes

a bit of fixin this afternoon…

It was ‘open day’ in Fixin today 😉
 


After a long walk checking out Napoleon and his digs, only time to visit 3 domaines, but a couple of outstanding and some very good wines – I even bought one!

2013 Domaine Joliet, Fixin
The young vines of the Clos de la Perrière
Deep, wide, a little sweet, with smoky oak. Modest colour. Round and silky, a bright line of acidity, Long finishing, quite tasty wine. 25€ for this level (direct)

2013 Domaine Joliet, Fixin 1er Clos de la Perrière
“The grand vin!
Deep, layered, plenty of smoky notes on this nose. Bigger, rounder, a fine line of acidity through the core. Wide, layered flavour, a little cushioning and a lot of flavour that’s faintly floral fishing. Lovely, even for €60 (direct)

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2013 Domaine Berthaut, Bourgogne
A wide, strawberry nose. Supple, modest flavoured but tasty. Well balanced, a nice texture, nice length too. Yum!

2013 Domaine Berthaut, Fixin
A hint rounder, deeper red fruit on this nose. More direct, more intense, a wider palette of flavour. Higher toned fruit. But nicely packaged. Also yum!

2013 Domaine Berthaut, Fixin Les Clos
Nice depth of aroma with an even nicer higher toned, partly floral red fruit. A little more cushioning, fine flavour here. Really super!
2013 Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Vosne-Romanée
Deeper colour. Deep aroma too, some flowers, some spice. A little extra sweetness, lovely complexity and texture. Really excellent. A great finish too. Bravo!

2013 Domaine Berthaut, Fixin 1er Les Arvelets
Fresher, higher tones, more direct. Fresh, direct flavour too, but with a good sweetness and, once more, nice texture. More mineral finishing. Super, and a great finish too. But for sheer deliciousness, easily outpointed by the Vosne.

2007 Domaine Berthaut, Fixin 1er Les Crais
Deep, sweet roasting fruit. Good width, an acidity at the core, less finely packed than the 13s. A bright finish. Good but not great.

2006 Domaine Berthaut, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cazetiers
A short lived pyrazine, then fresh flowers. Wide, mineral, salty, good acidity, very good complexity. Still a little tannic grain. Nice but not special.

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2014 Pierre Gelin, Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Aromatic, faintly spicy nose. Good weight, shape and very nice texture. Fine finishing flavour too. This is a very good Bourgogne.

2012 Pierre Gelin, Fixin
More weight and texture of aroma – this is very appealing. A hint mushroom, but nicely textured width and a depth of interesting flavour. A bright but not a bit rustic mid-palate and finishing flavour. Good stuff despite a hint of oak.

2012 Pierre Gelin, Fixin 1er Les Arvelets
A deeply floral nose with pretty and individual red fruits. Quite floral flavoured too – a good line of high-toned flavour. The finish is a little more harsh and mineral – but give it a couple more years of cellaring and this could be a nice surprise…

2012 Pierre Gelin, Fixin 1er Clos Napoleon
A deeper rounder and redder nose – freshly red fruited. Bigger in the mouth too, and I very much like the complexity here. Wide and with good energy and chewy finishing flavour. This will be very good…

2014 Pierre Gelin, Bourgogne Chardonnay ‘Dessus les Prielles’
An open fresh nose, with some yellow and green citrus. Lithe, tending towards soft, but silky and comfy without losing definition. Not special but well made, well put together and well drinkable 😉

week 48…

A few more producers in the bag from this weeks visits…

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The Times They Are a-Changin – (repeat)

alw-1997http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-02/don-stott-burgundy-collection

It’s a sign of the times. Today there’s an apparent lauding of ‘flash wealth’ and narey a critical word over such things. Certainly the linked article seems a celebration of what Stott has, and is, doing. There are, of-course, multiple perspectives to this:

Now if Don Stott had been publicly selling these (link above) bottles for charitable ends (maybe he anyway IS!), i.e. doing a Bill and Melinda, or (this week) a Mark and Priscilla, I would have simply applauded. But that’s not the case. It seems to me that this is just the next installment of the mad rush to elevate the pricing of what, for some – and I assume I’m not alone – was a daily staple, to something approaching a Louis Vuitton accessory for ever-fewer people. Sad to say, some wines have been in this bracket for some time.

There are many producers that are also uncomfortable with the back story of people who, over years, they sold lots of wine to (let’s not, however, forget the word ‘sold’), but who didn’t drink it and later went on to make large profits from it. And that will make it harder for everyone hoping to build relationships in the future. Still, Stott bought more wine than he could ever drink, so what did the producers think that he could do with all that?

If we go back almost 20 years (actually 1997), Andrew Lloyd Weber hit the headlines for doing exactly what Don Stott is doing today. The reaction was very different – and of-course the wines were mainly ‘affordable’ at that time – at least in the context of current pricing. Still, there was plenty of DRC (et-cetera) but there was a more overt negative reaction at that time. Even wine professionals were rather stuffy about it (paraphrasing) ‘It’s just the usual list of labels from the typical sources’ – at least judging by the publicity for the sale at that time.

It’s really not the same now – eh? I’m sure it will, first get worse, and then get painful, before it ever gets better, if it ever gets better…

2014 white burgundy

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2014 is the greatest white wine vintage that I’ve ever tasted

Online yesterday for subscribers. The full info on why, what to buy, and from whom, here. 38 producers and almost 400 wines…

just a few whites from this week…

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Drunk slowly over the last 4 days, with a little Volnay here and there. The first two being part of a selection opened for tour-guests which also included a Puligny Champs Canet and a Bienvenues plus more Volnay 😉

2012 Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Oncle Vincent
A bit of toasty reduction fades to reveal a hint of phenolics but a basically pretty and direct aroma. In the mouth there’s good texture and really plenty of concentration and intensity – width of fresh and involving flavour. Well done Oncle Vincent!
Rebuy – Yes

2012 Olivier Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet
A bit of toasty reduction once more. As it fades this becomes finer and finer with a very pretty and fresh complexity. In the mouth the texture is marginally finer though there’s certainly no more intensity than the Bourgogne shows – but – there is a much more impressive, complex flavour – you can almost point to the individual notes. This is simply more delicious. Really super-tasty wine. Excellent!
Rebuy – Yes

Both the Leflaives held up perfectly for 3 days – I thought the Puligny (aromatically) not as good on the 4th day, but remarkably the Bourgogne was still going strong. The bottles were left in the garage at a (maximum!) of 2°C in Bern this week, so needed to warm in the glass!

2006 Louis Chenu, Savigny-lès-Beaune Blanc
I found it in the cellar and my first thought was that it would be ‘past it’ – but… The nose is fresh, indeed a bit phenolic, the flavours too but with the nice, impressive, mid-palate complexity that maturity brings. Fresh and alive, but not really tasty in the same context as the (admittedly brilliant) Puligny. However, 3 hours after opening the bottle, the wine is holding up very well, and the slightly austere phenolic references have softened a little. The mid-palate flavour remains excellent, better than you could expect from the label. The rest is modest, but a welcome glass none-the-less. Probably all those phenols kept this wine from oxidation’s door.
Rebuy – Yes

a weekend duo…

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2009 Ramonet, Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Modesty coloured. A warm but welcoming aroma here – nicely detailed red fruit and not ‘too warm.’ Nicely textured with decent balance and a sweetness of fruit. Not a wine for dissecting, rather to lubricate discussion – works very well in that context. Tasty too!
Rebuy – Yes

2010 Joseph Voillot, Pommard 1er Pezerolles
Ooh! – that’s pretty! There’s comely dark fruit encased in an almost glossy silkiness – it says ‘drink me!’ Round and mouth-filling, but without overt, distracting volume. A beautiful depth of flavour that really holds in the finish and even adds some violet flower notes. Tannin? Pommard structure? No, not really – it’s just too well-balanced for that. Just an über-tasty wine!
Rebuy – Yes

week 47…

A few producers in the bag from this week…

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a nouveau wine – and it’s a beaujolais…

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Today is Beaujolais Nouveau day isn’t it?

Well, this is nouveau to me! This is a hybrid fermented – so part carbonic maceration, part ‘burgundian’ fermentation, i.e. with destemmed grapes. Here from a 3.5 ha domaine bought by Albert Bichot last year. Personally I prefer my BJ at least 10 years old as I’m no great fan of the aromas of carbonic maceration – and certainly not banana! This wine seems a great compromise…

2014 Domaine de Rochegrès, Moulin-à-Vent Rochegrès
Deep, bright fruit, a little carbonic in style but moderated by a complexity of fruit. Round with a core of mouth-watering and finely intense line of flavour. Fine texture here with a lovely finishing fruit flavour – bright yet layered finishing. Yum!
Rebuy – Yes

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