Bordeaux top growths disown generic clarets

  • Monday 28 November 2005

The Bordeaux crisis is nothing to do with the classed growths, according to a panel of leading Bordelais.

Speaking at ‘The Renaissance of the French Vineyard’ wine festival staged by Raymond Blanc at his Oxfordshire Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons hotel, a group of top producers washed their hands of the slump in sales and quality afflicting low- to mid-range producers of AC Bordeaux

Blanc gathered the panel – chaired by Decanter columnist Michael Broadbent and featuring such names as Bernard Magrez (owner of Graves grand cru classé Pape Clément), Jean-Michel Cazes (owner of Pauillac 5th growth Lynch-Bages) and Jean-Luc Thunevin (owner of St-Emilion garage estate Château Valandraud) – to ‘reappraise French vineyards and the laws governing them’ in light of the ‘painful crisis’ forcing the French wine industry to ‘reinvent itself’.

But when pressed on the best way in which Bordeaux could improve its profile with younger drinkers lured by New World brands, the trio were dismissive of many initiatives.

In particular, members of the audience – and Blanc himself –stressed the way in which varietal labelling had made New World wines more accessible for casual drinkers. Asked whether the classed growths didn’t have a responsibility to encourage their generic counterparts to take up such initiatives, Cazes dismissed the idea as ‘not so relevant to us’.

Pressed as to whether introducing drinkers to AC Bordeaux wines could lead them to ultimately discover the crus classés, Magrez said the £5-£8 sector was ‘already lost'. He said they should concentrate instead on marketing the classed growths more efficiently.

Decanter columnist Hugh Johnson called for ‘third rate Bordeaux’ vineyards to be grubbed up. ‘At the moment, you can plant anywhere in the Gironde and call your wine Bordeaux,’ he said. ‘The defining lines of Bordeaux need to be driven by geographical, not political boundaries.’

The notion was pilloried by Thunevin, however, who laid the blame on poor quality winemaking. ‘The land is perfectly good,’ the garagiste countered. ‘What do you want us to do? Rip it up and plant maize? Don’t be so ridiculous.’

Johnson later chaired the Burgundy debate, in which a similar line of questioning – and responses – emerged. Pierre-Henri Gagey, head of top négociant Louis Jadot and former chair of the BIVB, said he retained faith in the creation of a higher tier of ‘Appellation d’Excellence’ wines, under a different name, over the use of varietal labelling.

But Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac claimed the region was too fragmented for it to campaign effectively for legislative reform. ‘To have any discourse and unity is impossible,’ he said. ‘It makes communication and promotion very difficult.’

By contrast, in a similar debate on the wines of Languedoc-Rousillon, the head of Clos des Fées, Hervé Bizeul, called for the top estates to work with the co-operatives to drive quality and growth.

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