Seven thousand wine professionals pre-registered to attend the Bordeaux en primeur week tastings for the 2018 vintage and at least 6,000 of those were expected to attend events between Monday 1 April and Thursday 4 April, according to the Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB).
Speaking to Decanter.com, Ronan Laborde, the new president of the UGCB and Château Clinet manager and co-owner, said, ‘Those figures are very high, especially if you consider the UGCB is quite strict with the access, only reserved to wine professionals from the trade and press.’
Some estates are expecting record turnouts to taste the young Bordeaux 2018 vintage.
Philippe Dhalluin, managing director of Château Mouton Rothschild, said the estate was expecting its highest ever attendance with a ‘record 2,000 confirmed booked appointments’.
‘We had 1,700 [for] 2017 so it’s a big difference,’ he said. ‘We are seeing many people from Europe, especially Germany and Switzerland, less people from China [and] strong demand from the USA this year.
‘I think people are more curious about the 2018 vintage – there is a sense that it’s something not to miss and people want to come and try it for themselves.’
Despite delicate market conditions, the attendance figures will add to confidence among top Bordeaux châteaux as UGCB said that exports of grand cru wines in 2018 rose to €1.1bn in 2018, their highest level since 2013 in value terms. The sales include wines above €22.5 per bottle ex-Bordeaux.
Around two thirds of en primeur visitors work in the French wine trade, but the top five foreign countries for visitor numbers this year are the UK, US, Switzerland, China and Germany, said the UGCB. Laborde said the US appeared to have grown most versus last year.
Véronique Dausse, director at Château Phélan-Ségur in St-Estèphe, said that she also received more requests to taste this year and added that interest came much earlier than normal.
‘We had so many requests come through in January this year that by the end of the month we had nearly filled our en primeur schedule – that’s unheard of,’ she told Decanter.com.
Aymeric de Gironde, director at Château Troplong Mondot in St-Émilion, said; ‘2018 is being hailed as a great vintage in Bordeaux, in Burgundy and in Champagne, so when every region in France seems to have done well the international echo is multiplied – that’s what’s happening.
‘We will welcome 700 people here, which is a record for us.’
Extreme weather conditions
Higher interest in Bordeaux 2018 specifically has also been attributed to the extreme weather conditions of the vintage.
‘It was definitely a year when you needed to work weekends to stay on top of your vineyard,’ said Decanter’s Jane Anson in her preview to the primeur tastings.
Winemakers across the region faced a wet winter and spring. Humid conditions led to an unusually fierce battle against mildew in many vineyards, and some also had to cope with hail damage.
However, a long, dry summer followed, with hot temperatures in several areas. Red winemakers, in particular, enjoyed a long harvest period.
Drought conditions and water stress meant yields and blends vary from property to property; some as low as 11 hectolitres per hectare and upper levels reaching 49hl/ha.
Many estates saw unprecedented levels of concentration in the grapes, particularly on sites best suited to each of the key varieties. As a result, estates needed to be avoid being too heavy-handed with extraction in the cellar.
‘It’s easier to organise your trip’
Laborde said that logistics and greater openness in the region have also helped visitor numbers for the primeur tastings.
‘It is easier to organise your trip and stay here, plus many châteaux and Bordeaux wine merchants open their doors during this week, which makes this event more attractive.’
He also added, ‘Since the retirement of Robert Parker, more people have to come, meet and taste, to form their own opinion of the wines.’
Extra reporting on UGCB exports by John Stimpfig. Editing by Chris Mercer.