Bordeaux’s history does not automatically earn it a place in the future.

Bordeaux's History Picture
On September 17th, we had a staff tasting of Brane-Cantenac with Marie-Hélène Dussech, Commercial Director, and then a week later we were lucky enough to have another great staff tasting with Vin & Vignobles Dourthe, led by President Patrick Jestin, on September 26th. I thought I would take this opportunity to practice a past Masters of Wine (MW) exam topic. I have taken a lot of license with this exam topic by giving it a more entertaining, blog sort of feel, and that the version that I will rewrite for my own studies is a more academic, structured version. All tasting notes are listed at the end of this post.

Brane-Cantenac has always fascinated me because it is a 2nd growth in Margaux according to the 1855 classification, but its reputation pales in comparison to that of Palmer, a 3rd growth in Margaux. Even the idea that they have similar colors on their label shows that they are siblings in a sense; Palmer being mainly black with some gold, and Brane-Cantenac being mainly gold with some black. Brane-Cantenac, even though they are higher on the classification scale, is known as the “good value” sibling. It is fair to say that the other four 2nd growths from Margaux have a reputation that pales in comparison to Palmer as well, with Palmer rivaling Chateau Margaux, a 1st growth, in some vintages.

A few years back I was lucky enough to visit Brane-Cantenac with a group of first year MW students. We visited many of the Lurton family estates. The Lurtons are a well-known wealthy family of Bordeaux that own many châteaux among the siblings in the family. Henri Lurton is the sibling that was given Brane-Cantenac, and when we sat down with him for lunch, we told him how lucky he must feel to be given the 2nd growth Grand Cru Classé chateau. Well, he actually said that no one wanted it, and since he was one of the youngest, he was stuck with it. He talked about the expectation from his family to bring the glory back to Brane-Cantenac, and how he had worked tirelessly for years to greatly improve quality, as well as improving the marketing of the wine.

Our staff was familiar with Brane-Cantenac, its struggle with living in the shadow of its former lackluster self, and the great value that this chateau has become due to its recently improved quality. The presentation from Patrick Jestin on behalf of Dourthe was different. Dourthe is not well known in the US, it has a great presence in the UK and Europe, but until recently, placed very little focus on the US.

I met Mathieu Chadronnier a few years back at a gala dinner. I was taking MW seminars in Bordeaux; Dourthe is a sponsor of the MW program and we were staying at one of their places. They gave us a lovely gala dinner, where I ended up sitting right next to Mathieu Chadronnier. I should explain who he is, since I certainly do not have the who’s who of the power players of the wine world memorized, so I don’t expect others to know. He is head of CVBG, one of the top three grand crus négociants. CVBG Grand Cru is part of the group built up by his father Jean-Marie and sold in 2007 to the Thienot group, its sister companies including Vins & Vignobles Dourthe, and Kressman and Maison Delor. Also, he was named on The Decanter Power List for 2013.

Well, I actually did not know who he was… this is very typical for me, as I am truly the little wine nerd making my notes in the corner, not paying much attention to the gossip in the trade, and so, I really have no idea most of the time who is who. Someone brought it to my attention that I was talking to a very ‘important’ person the next day. But without knowing that he was an ‘important’ person, I enjoyed my conversation with him and I was happy that I sat next to him. He is a very serious man, who knew so much about the vintage history of Bordeaux. Personally, I do not like small talk, so I always enjoy sitting next to someone who is very knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge. And once he knew I was from New York City, he expressed that the Dourthe company wanted to place their focus on the US. He said that he knew the best way to come into the market was to build relationships with established retailers, and to not be tempted by flash in the pan start up companies that promise the moon and the stars. Even though he had the attitude of the younger generation of encouraging development into untapped markets, he also had the wisdom of those who had come before him and knew nothing worth having comes easy.

A few months after our conversation, his wines were placed in my store. Personally, I had nothing to do with it. I have very little power in that regard. But there was obviously a move on their part to build a relationship.

And here I was, over a year later, in a staff tasting with the Vin et Vignobles Dourthe wines, led by the President of the company, Patrick Jestin.

The history of Brane-Cantenac and Dourthe do not automatically earn it a place in the future, which is evident by their efforts, and Bordeaux’s future is not automatically secure.

What is Bordeaux doing to secure their place in the wine market?

The Bordeaux CIVB gave a press conference earlier this year in Paris discussing several new marketing initiatives that have been launched.

-They have encouraged practices that focus on the environment. Patrick Schmitt reported in The Drinks Business that last year Guillaume Halley, owner of Château de La Dauphine, said at the time 7% of Bordeaux estates were organic compared to only 3% ten years ago. Pontet Canet has certainly benefitted not only from improved quality since they changed to organic/biodynamic, but they have also received positive press. Pontet Canet has become such a popular château that they were the first to sell out of their en primeur in the difficult 2013 campaign earlier this year.

-A focus on Belgian market, and a new “fête du vin” in Brussels.

-They are increasing wine production of dry white wines. They are taking advantage of the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc around the world.

-They are making more rosé wine. Not only considering the fact that French rosé is a trend, illustrated by Wines of Provence reporting that Provence rosé sales have climbed 40% from 2012 to 2013 in the US. But also, rosé makes sense in poorer vintages. Gavin Quinney, owner of Chateau Bauduc, did not sell en primeur for the 2013s. Yields were low and the quality was questionable; it made more sense for him to sit out the campaign. He did not make a 2013 Bauduc red, and he made his money back from his white and an increase in the production of his rose.

-Three 100% Bordeaux wine bars (Bordeaux, New York, Shanghai)

Also, a point that I think is worth mentioning, that was not focused on so much during the press conference, is the idea of marketing their classic red wines with different terminology. One example is an old term ‘Claret’ that will express a brand of easy drinking, fruity, everyday reds at the AOC Bordeaux and AOC Bordeaux supérieur level, and the idea of Essence de Dourthe. Essence is an interesting idea from the Vins et Vignobles Dourthe company in Bordeaux. It is a blend from the best plots of some of their well-known chateaux such as Le Boscq in St-Estephe, La Garde in Pessac-Leognan, Belgrave in the Medoc, and Grand Barrail in St-Emilion. Only 500 cases were made, and only made in very good to excellent vintages such as the 2005 and 2008 we tasted. It is only classified as an AOC Bordeaux, even though it tastes like a Grand Cru Classé. This is not your parents’ fine wine Bordeaux, it is another breed. It is a ‘super’ Bordeaux.

The Bad News

While volume of wine from Bordeaux sold edged up 0.3%, it dropped in value by 1.4%. CIVB president Bernard Farges blamed the poor performance on the slowdown in China. Sales in China fell 16% by volume and 18% by value last year. A crackdown on corruption by China’s new leadership has affected sales of Western luxury goods.

The Good News

There has been a 14.2% increase in volume and 18.6% in value of Bordeaux sales in the UK since 2009. This is supported by the below chart, supplied by the French Customs, showing exports of Bordeaux to the UK rising by 18% in 2013.

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The Bordeaux CIVB reported in March of this year that bulk wine prices were up 25% in 2013.

Also, Liv-ex recently reported a 1.3% increase in value of the five 1st growths. This is not a significant increase, but merchants are hoping that it signals a new age of Bordeaux as a wise investment. The biggest increase was the 2009 Lafite Rothschild seeing a 9.9% gain in value, but besides the 1st growths, the 2nd growth Montrose showed a great increase with recent approval from Parker. The 1989 increased by 10.9%, the 2003 by 7.4%, and 2010 by 6.5%. I wrote a blog post back in July entitled, “Can Bordeaux make a comeback?” featuring a recent tasting from Montrose that greatly impressed me. Do I know how to call them or what? :-p

I think there is no doubt that Bordeaux’s history does not automatically earn it a place in the future. I think that is true about any business, organization, region, etc. As I think about this topic I cannot help but to reflect on my own personal experiences… all the great personalities of those senior colleagues that have helped shaped my view of the wine business in New York City… many of them that were advanced in age have retired by this time… and even though I remember so many times being frustrated that they were set in their ways, and how many would not consider any type of change… I still miss them. They were true New York City characters of a certain time, and they simply do not make them like that anymore.

When I look at the younger generation of Bordeaux, and those who are middle aged and basically in the transition of having those that have come before them start to wind down, I wonder if they feel the same way about that transition as I do. On one hand feeling that you cannot wait to be able to bring the company or region to current times, but that you are sad that you will lose something special of the past. I often wish we could have both; but unfortunately it seems you either sacrifice the past for the future, or you sacrifice your future for the past.

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Tasting notes from Brane Cantenac wines on September 17th, 2014

(listed in order that they were tasted)

-2005 Baron de Brane:
ripe black and red fruit, dusty earth, round texture, broader than other wines, not as structured as 2009

-2008 Baron de Brane 2008:
classic, linear, floral, violet, bright acidity

-2006 Brane-Cantenac:
lighter color than 2007, a little closed, not giving a lot that day, but great texture and length, a sense that it will be much better down the line

-2007 Brane-Cantenac:
smoky nose, tobacco, leather, espresso, not much structure, softer palate, all about the intense nose

-2008 Brane-Cantenac:
less intensity on nose than 2007, but still more aromatic than other vintages, dried flowers and herbal notes, more flesh on the palate, my favorite to drink right now

-2003 Brane-Cantenac:
ripe, plush, sexy, extremely ripe cherry and raisins, seems more of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape than Bordeaux

-2009 Brane-Cantenac:
raspberry, strong structure, minty, lots of fruit, good backbone of tannins, great with steak now, or will be even more amazing in 10-15 years

Tasting notes from Dourthe wines on September 26th, 2014

(listed in order that they were tasted)
-2006 Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac (St. Emilion):
beautiful nose of flowers, plummy flavors, and overall fresh quality with some hints of toasty oak

-2006 Château Le Boscq (St Estephe):
big structure, not afraid to give serious tannin, but starting to integrate.. exotic spice character with herbaceous notes makes this wine perfect with lamb

-2008 Chateau La Garde (Pessac-Leognan):
this wine had a lot of sediment, we needed to decent it twice, this 2008 was classic with tobacco notes, red currant flavors, bright acidity and elegant linear body

-2010 Chateau Belgrave (Haut-Medoc):
complex notes of cedar box and graphite, rich black currant jam, solid grip and nice tension from lots of acidity

-2005 Essence de Dourthe:
some Cabernet Franc, more linear, firmer on palate, more earth than fruit, a long finish like the 2008 but more about the aromatics in the head than sustained flavor on the palate…intoxicating

-2008 Essence de Dourthe:
no Cabernet Franc, richer in body than 2005 which is funny, maybe because of the lack of Cabernet Franc, dark and lovely with notes of espresso, licorice, intense graceful fruit and long, flavorful finish….delicious

They only make Essence de Dourthe in what they consider to be the best vintages:
Made in 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, maybe in 2012, will not make in 2011 and 2013.

 

 

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