Two recent reports suggest fundamental changes in the wine world in the not-too-distant future.
First up, Antonio Cevola reports on the “Burgundization of Barolo”:
Today, Gaja’s wines are approaching the DRC club. Only the wealthiest 1% of the 1%ers can savor these wines in their Lalique “100-point” or Zalto crystal wine chalices. Even a visit to Gaja today (see Gaja winery visit letter here) will set back the average Joe a €300 ‘donation’ (to one of several of the Gaja family selected charities). For such a donation (bank wire transfer, one month in advance and reconfirmed by email) one is granted a visit at Gaja that will “include a cellar tour and a wine tasting with wines selected by the Gaja family, which in total will last approximately two hours.”
Meanwhile, according to Levi Dalton (as reported by Cevola):
There are serious foreign groups – American, European, Asian, ex Italy – of course, looking to make investments in Italy, including the biggest luxury brand and mass market wines groups that you can think of. You name five of them, you’re going to get three right away, that are looking, right now, to buy vineyards in Piedmont. And that will change forever the economics of vineyard land in Piedmont. The local winemaking family can still afford to buy even top tier vineyards in Piedmont. You might have to get a loan, or securitize versus other assets that you have, but it’s still possible. But In five years, it won’t be possible. It’ll become like Burgundy where all the vineyards are slowly going to be owned by investors.
So Burgundy is now out of reach for even the most dedicated wine lovers; Barolo is headed in the same direction and I imagine Barbaresco will follow.
Next up, Decanter reports that grape growers are running out of space in Marlborough New Zealand, where 75% of New Zealand’s wines are produced.
Demand for vineyard space is being fuelled by rising exports of New Zealand wine, which hit NZ$1.3bn annually last year and could rise to $1.5bn in 2015 buoyed by a record 2014 harvest, according to trade body New Zealand Winegrowers (NZWG).
‘In five to 10 years, Marlborough will be fully planted,’ said Philip Gregan, chief executive of NZWG. ‘It’s something we are going to have to live with,’ he told Decanter.com at a tasting in London.
‘We think it will be sooner than that,’ said Simon Kelly, head of European sales for Yealands, which announced before Christmas that was seeking outside funding to buy more land.
That will inevitably result in much higher prices and less supply.
I think both of these stories point to the importance of emerging wine regions. Burgundy, Barolo, and relative newcomer New Zealand are established regions with a reputation for quality. But wine regions that in the past were on the margins of the fine wine world such as Portugal (at least for dry, still wine) and South Africa are upping their game; and wine grapes are now being planted in parts of the world from China, to India, to the UK, where they had previously been a rare novelty.
We can’t expect all these emerging regions to produce wines of quality to compete with the best from Barolo and Burgundy. But it is to be hoped there are hidden gems in these new regions, as they learn to match their vineyards with the proper varieties, that will supply accessible quality in the future.
It may be time for wine lovers with ordinary incomes to pursue their passion in unusual locales.