Bordeaux and the Threat of Homogeneity

bordeaux vineyardsThere may be no better symbol of the state of the wine industry than this report about Bordeaux from the Wine Searcher staff entitled The Bottom Falls Out of Bordeaux Prices:

The classed growths might be bathing in the glow of high prices and global high regard, but the ordinary Bordeaux vigneron is doing it hard right now – to the point where their wine is worth less than water.

French financial newspaper Les Echos reported this week that the price of bulk Bordeaux had fallen to less than a euro a liter, with a fair possibility that prices could crash even lower.

In the most famous wine region in the world, a region long synonymous with fine wine, ordinary wineries can’t remain profitable. No doubt increased competition from emerging wine regions and changing tastes that favor “new world” wine styles are part of the explanation for Bordeaux’s demise. But the article pinpoints the real, underlying problem:

Liber Pater‘s Loïc Pasquet, a long-time vocal critic of the CIVB and other wine regulatory bodies, isn’t at risk of having to survive on less than a euro a liter for his wine – the 2015 vintage of Liber Pater has a $33,000-a-bottle price tag – but he is certain where the blame lies. The devaluation of wine into a single “Bordeaux” style is a major reason for a lack of interest in the wines, and the current oversupply of indistinguishable – and undistinguished – wine.

“At these prices, wine is cheaper than water,” he told Wine-Searcher. “It’s the result of INAO and CIVB policies these past 15 years – like the infamous ‘typicity’ rules enacted in 2009 in the appellations’ technical requirements. This simplification of the taste was advocated by the CIVB, which spends €7 million telling the world that Bordeaux is ‘Many châteaux, one style’. It’s the negation of the specificity of place, the negation of ‘climat’. And you can easily foresee that the arrival of hybrids will finish this imposition of a ‘typical’ wine, an industrial wine. It’s the death sentence of Bordeaux, signed by our own institutions.”

I know I sound like a broken record on the topic of homogeneity but this is a serious issue for the wine business. When all wines taste the same distinguished only by the branding on the bottle there is no reason for most wineries to exist and no reason for consumers to shop for anything but the lowest priced bottle. It’s a prescription for a race to the bottom—which is precisely what is happening in Bordeaux.

Diversity, variation and distinctiveness are the ultimate values that drive the wine world. When the wine business loses sight of those values they might as well be selling orange juice or milk.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.