Creative ideas for new times
Creativity thrives in crises. That’s how the saying goes, isn’t it? We hope so. Because the wine industry will need all the ingenuity, it can muster.
The wine world is often accused of being conservative, too set in its old habits. But changes are happening. Even if people do not always realise it. A good example is irrigation. We often hear people say that it is forbidden in Europe. Irrigation is something you only do in the New World. But today a quarter of the Italian vineyards and 30% of the Spanish ones are irrigated. France does not need as much (it is further north), but you often see it in the Languedoc. Things change.
Is Bordeaux more conservative than other regions? In that case, they now have the chance to show another face. Even before the corona crisis, they struggled with declining sales in France and in China, as well as the uncertainty surrounding brexit. How to think creatively in Bordeaux? Maybe consider starting online sales directly to the end customer? This is a quite dramatic change in Bordeaux. Traditionally the chateaux don’t deal much with end customers because they sell their entire production through “la place de Bordeaux” via brokers and negociants.
Maybe it’s time to fundamentally reform the ancient, over-aristocratic system of the primeur tastings, which hardly is a good way to judge wines anyway.
Why not start producing single variety wine as an alternative to all Bordeaux blends? I think it would be a shrewd move in all its simplicity. I just read about the cooperative in Listrac/Moulis-en-Médoc, which has had great success with its 100% petit verdot. A few do similar things, but not many. (Read, for example, about the sauvignon gris from Château Carsin in this month’s Brief.)
Petit verdot and cabernet franc are trendy grapes today, so why not bring them forward? I realise that not all chateaux in Bordeaux have these grapes and not in large quantities. But cabernet sauvignon is, after all, the world’s most popular grape and merlot is not far behind. So how difficult can it be to sell Bordeaux? I already hear objections about chateaux, prestige and terroir. But as I said, new times require radical changes.
It is a good thing to have so-called “locomotives”, famous estates that help bring out the lesser-known ones. But today, Bordeaux may be suffering from, rather than benefiting from, the immensely famous “grand cru classés”. Thanks to them, Bordeaux has gained a reputation for being far too expensive and only making luxury wines. (This is of course not true. Bordeaux is an area with many excellent and affordable wines, as long as you ignore the celebrities.)
Champagne seems to be heading towards a brilliant vintage. But it also seems that the permitted yield will be miniscule, although there are plenty of grapes and the quality promises to be excellent. The houses are afraid of choke-full inventories and price dumping and therefore want to limit supply on the market. Market manipulation rather that creative product development.
If you want to be really creative, why not let the growers pick a little bit more of their beautiful grapes this autumn and instead of champagne, let them make still wines of the plentiful grapes. Because the world right now apparently doesn’t want to drink as much champagne as it used to. There is even an appellation for still wine in Champagne, Coteaux Champenois, white and red. With the warm weather this year, these wines are bound to be excellent. Imagine a 100% pinot meunier, still wine. (We have actually tried one. Very good.) It could be a smash hit, in the same way as petit verdot in Bordeaux. Here, too, I think there will be objections, but changes do happen. Just look at irrigation in Europe.
This is an issue that all wine producers and wine regions are grappling with today. What can they do, in these times when demand is weak?
Do you have any suggestions?
/Britt & Per