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Bordeaux 2006 a tough sell: merchants

Bordeaux professionals are predicting that 2006 may be a tough sell after the success of 2005.

As the Bordeaux harvest wound down, winemakers reflected on a tricky season, book-ended by heavy rains, with periods of moderate heat and light in between.

While the 2005 growing season was perfect for ‘phenomenal’ wines, ‘this year, at the non-classified level, that’s going to be all but impossible,’ said Laurent Ehrmann, general manager of Médoc-based négociant Barrières Frères.

Intermediaries are already warning châteaux to keep prices low if they hope to have any takers.

‘I doubt the American market will buy a second vintage in a row, regardless of quality,’ said Ehrmann. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised to see price decreases in 2006.’

Berry Brothers sales director Simon Staples said, ‘There’s an adage that it’s very easy to put prices up 50% in a good year, but it takes five years to bring them down.’

After forking out for the 2005s, buyers would need ‘a major incentive’. 2006 ‘will have to be priced as cheaply or cheaper than 2002.’

He added, ‘It would be a good time for the châteaux to give something back to the customer.’

Meanwhile négociants and growers said 2006 will only be kind to estates with the resources to have kept their vines in impeccable condition throughout the season, and to redress in the winery the damage that nature inflicted.

‘It has been a difficult season. We have had more rain since 16 August than we usually have between March and September,’ said Jean-Christophe Mau, who manages family properties Châteaux Brown in Pessac-Léognan and Preuillac in northern Médoc.

Three hundred millimetres fell in that period onto parched grapes which absobed water so fast they burst and rotted, Mau said. Many growers picked unripe grapes in panic ‘to avoid further loss.’

At négociant Dourthe, which also owns châteaux throughout the region, preventive measures in the vineyard were taken: keeping rows tidy, and treating against mildew and oidium. They also green harvested assiduously and constantly removed leaves to allow air to circulate around the grapes, mitigating the possibility of rot, the company’s Marie-Hélène Inquimbert said.

‘The weather made for very uneven ripening throughout the region – even among bunches on a single vine,’ she said. ‘We had to make several passes to give the grapes the maximum chance of maturity.’

On the eve of harvest, analyses at Dourthe showed such ripeness that ‘we thought we might have another 2005 on our hands,’ said Inquimbert. ‘The key now is to make sure we don’t over-extract.’

Written by Maggie Rosen

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