By SUZANNE MUSTACICH
The 2008 Bordeaux futures campaign began under trying conditions. The economic crisis has flatlined sales. The 2007 vintage remains largely unsold. And bad press following a difficult growing season wrote off the vintage despite a glorious Indian Summer. For months — gloomy winter months, the brokers and négociants worked hard to persuade the chateaux to dramatically lower their prices on the 2008 vintage. Then there was an increasingly public demand that the First Growths cut prices by 50% and start the campaign early. The First Growths, typically, remained silent — until the end of last month.
I had already spoken to Denis Dubourdieu to get his opinion on the quality of the vintage. I headed to Pomerol to talk to Michel Rolland, followed by a long drive to Yquem to talk to Pierre Lurton. From Yquem, I stopped in Bordeaux long enough to pick up fellow journalist Jane Anson, and from there we drove to Pontet-Canet for dinner with Alfred Tesseron. The following morning, I began the day at Mouton Rothschild with Philippe Dalhuin and Hervé Berland. By the time I reached Branaire-Ducru for the Union des Grands Crus trade tastings, I felt I had a handle on the vintage.
The quality is uneven. The top chateaux and the well-managed smaller chateaux made some excellent wine. The Right Bank, especially Pomerol, produced a gorgeous vintage, yet some were complete misses. Amongst those who succeeded, there is a real freshness from the long, cool ripening period in the fall. The dry and sweet whites, on the other hand, have a real tough time following the spectacular 2007 vintage. My favorite Sauternes were Yquem, Guiraud and Doisy-Vedrines — by the way, I did the Sauternes-Barsac tasting blind at the UGC journalists tasting.
There had been a tremendous buzz amongst the winemakers. Robert Parker and James Suckling were rumored to have ‘loved’ the vintage. The brokers and negociants started to sweat, worrying that with a few encouraging words, the wine critics had undone months of pressure to lower prices. They worried that the winemakers would be tempted to hold back on releasing their wines and still worse, refuse to lower prices enough to spark sales.
I spoke with Pierre Lurton again, at the very end of the tastings. He had not changed his tune. He began and ended saying he believed the First Growths had a responsibility to lower prices and start the campaign early. As he put it, despite the excellent wine and anticipated high ratings, this was not a speculative year. This is the year for the consumer.
Mouton Rothschild was a bit more reticent and independent. On the one hand, they did not see any reason to wait, given the economic climate and felt they would have their price set by the end of the tastings. In terms of price, they refused to comment. On the other hand, they did not express any solidarity with the rest of the trade. Berland said that in difficult times, everyone had to individually analyze their situation and make a decision in their own best interests.
I think we can be hopeful that there will be a price adjustment for the top growths, a much needed price adjustment. Angelus released its wine this week with a 41% price drop. The rumor has been that the First Growths would begin releasing their wines on April 2. It would be a wonderful thing if the top wines returned to being wines meant for consumption rather than speculation.