Noteworthy news in the world of wine with an emphasis on France!
Compiled & edited by Roger C. Bohmrich MW
La Revue du Vin de France (RVF) discusses the concerns of viticulteurs in Burgundy with respect to hailstorms and other weather-related threats. Growers, they say, are considering both technical solutions as well as new insurance coverage. The issue has been provoked by the cold and damp spring of 2013 followed by violent hailstorms during the summer. According to the regional body (BIVB), only 40% of growers are currently insured for weather-related damage.
“We have an enormous demand for insurance this year from Burgundy and Bordeaux,” states Jérôme Van Praet of Suisse Grêle, an insurance company. In 2014, he expects rate increases of 5% to 10% in the viticulture sector. Growers fear that, in order to obtain adequate hail coverage, their rates will multiply significantly. Another option is to pursue technical solutions, RVF explains, citing the example of Thiébault Huber, president of the growers syndicate in Volnay. Huber employs a generator to project silver iodide from the ground into hail-laden clouds in an attempt to reduce the size of the hail stones.
The BIVB indicates they are studying this approach and evaluating how the cost of such generators can be shared by all concerned. In the meantime, growers are hoping for some sort of official relief from this year’s damage and crop losses.
Ed. See Issue Four for articles describing the 2013 summer storms.
Close to the Mediterranean at Gruissan, in the Aude department, the INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research) is working on new grape varieties and technologies to address the challenges of the future, reports La Revue du Vin de France (RVF). On a property of 47 hectares [116 acres] on the Massif de la Clappe, there are plots dedicated to experimental grape varieties intended to resist diseases and the effects of climate change.
The hope is to develop varieties requiring fewer chemical treatments. RVF points out that grapes rank second after apples in France in terms of chemical applications. For example, a cross has been developed of Muscadinia, an American vine, and European Vitis that is resistant to mildew and oidium. In addition, practices such as minimal pruning, common in Australia for more than thirty years, lead to self-regulation by the vine: less foliage but more grapes.
Moreover, ripening is slowed, and sugar production is reduced, an effective counter to rising temperatures. In terms of new techniques in the cellar, the article cites flash détente, or rapid heating and bursting of the grapes before transfer to vat. This technology, found as well in Argentina and Chile, rapidly liberates color and polyphenols, an advantage for high-volume wineries. Another innovation is membrane electrodialysis, which enables control of the acidity and alcohol as well as tartrate stabilization without chemical additives. Eurodia, the industrial partner of the INRA, currently exports this technology to 25 countries.
Wines & Vines presents an analysis of land values in French wine regions, pointing out that the most prestigious vineyards “command very high prices compared to property in U.S. wine regions.” While the best sites in California have fetched $350,000 per acre, the top Bordeaux appellations have reached $800,000 or more. The most celebrated vineyards of France are “the most expensive in the world.”
Another point of note is that land in basic regional appellations in France actually dropped in value during the recent financial crisis while the most celebrated crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy continued to multiply in worth. Based on data from numerous sources, the magazine indicates that regional Bordeaux AOP averages €15,000 per hectare whereas Pauillac fetches €1,650,000, or approximately $8,000 and $887,000 per acre, respectively.
Regional Côtes du Rhône is quoted at €16,500 per hectare while Châteauneuf-du-Pape is priced at €340,000. In Burgundy, regional AOP vineyard is valued at €219,300 per hectare ($118,000/acre), premier cru white at €1,220,000/ha ($656,000/acre), and grands crus at €3,800,000/ha with a cru such as Bâtard-Montrachet reaching €22,500,000/ha (around $12 million/acre). A vineyard broker, Adam Dakin, says that in Burgundy, “they literally count the individual vines to calculate the value in the most prestigious crus.”
Comparison is drawn as well to Tuscany, where Chianti Classico sells for $54,000/acre and Montalcino for $161,000. One factor contributing to France’s vineyard values is the limitation on planting: each region has specific quotas for new vineyards and replanting. These rights “are frequently traded or bought and sold on the open market.”
Decanter and others are reporting that Google Streetview will offer virtual, 3-dimensional visits of Bordeaux and individual châteaux once reserved for on-site tours. The filming is part of Google’s plan “to document UNESCO World Heritage sites.” Château Lafon-Rochet in Saint-Estèphe is one of the first estates to join the program. The Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion, which was inscribed as a World Heritage location in 1999, is to be filmed as well.
Artémis S.A., the company belonging to French business magnate François Pinault, has purchased Araujo Estate, according to the Wine Spectator. Araujo is one of the most prestigious names in the Napa Valley, and their reputation has been associated primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon.
The acquisition includes the prized Eisele Vineyard which Bart and Daphne Araujo bought in 1990. Artémis has gradually extended their vineyard holdings with targeted acquisitions after purchasing First Growth Château Latour in Pauillac in 1993. Their wine portfolio also includes Domaine d’Eugénie (formerly Domaine Engel) in Vosne-Romanée and Château-Grillet in the Northern Rhône.
Wine Spectator (WS) writes that Maison Louis Jadot, an important négociant and vineyard owner in Burgundy, has purchased the Resonance Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton sub-AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Of note is that the vines “are all on their original roots” in contrast to Louis Jadot’s Burgundian vineyards.
The winemaker for the Resonance project will be Jacques Lardière, Jadot’s technical director for 42 years until his retirement in 2012. The firm joins Maison Joseph Drouhin, who owns and operates Domaine Drouhin Oregon. There is no winemaking facility at this time, and no plans to construct a winery have been announced publicly. The production in 2013, an estimated 2,700 cases, “were to be vinified at Trisaetum” according to WS.
Wine Business Monthly (WBM) discusses a new device manufactured by Coravin, LLC “that allows users to pour and enjoy the wine from their favorite bottles without pulling the cork.” According to WBM, the device relies on a “thin, hollow needle” which is inserted through the capsule and cork. Argon gas is injected, and the pressure inside the bottle pushes the wine through the needle and into a glass. When the needle is withdrawn, “the cork (natural or technical) reseals itself.” The same bottle can be sampled repeatedly “over weeks, months or longer without wasting any wine.” The price of the Coravin Wine Access System is $299 (argon canisters are purchased separately).
The pros and cons of the Coravin device are debated in Decanter. They quote the inventor, Greg Lambrecht, as claiming: “I drank a bottle of 1961 Château La Mission Haut-Brion with about 14 people over the course of four years.” Stephen Finch of UK merchant Vagabond points out that “avoiding oxidation” is only one issue. As the volume of wine in the bottle decreases, he states, the dissolved gas may lead to ‘deadening’. For this reason, Vagabond removes bottles from their Enomatic system once the fill is low. In short, Finch doubts Coravin’s ability to assure fully reliable preservation.
In a subsequent article, Decanter adds that the system could “enable wines to be sampled and tested prior to an auction.” On the other hand, they quote David Elswood of Christie’s, who is worried that fraudsters could adapt the technology to put wine into a bottle.
Quoting a study conducted by the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) since 2001, Wine Business Monthly reports that the incidence of wine contaminated by cork taint and TCA has diminished. The drop is the result, it appears, of “the improved quality of natural corks as well as the use of synthetic closures.”
From 2008 to 2011, the CIVB selected 9,143 bottles of Bordeaux wine at random from retail stores and wholesalers in France and other countries. In the full eleven years of the study, 2.38% of all wines “were identified by tasters as tainted by cork or mold.” Chemical analysis confirmed that the tasters were correct in 95% of the cases.
Agglomerated corks were found to have the highest rate of overall contamination, partly owing to “a polluted environment,” whereas natural corks contained the highest levels of TCA. “The analyses revealed a definite decrease in the levels of TCA found in wines” over the past decade, WBM writes.
In the Financial Times supplement entitled “Buying & Investing in Wine,” Jancis Robinson suggests Bordeaux vintages which are “fit to drink now.” She notes that the 2010s “are looking better and better,” but “it would be a shame to open them now.” Wines from the lower ranks in 2009 “are already a pleasure” due to their bountiful fruit.
The 2008s “will probably benefit from prolonged ageing.” 2007, on the other hand, delivers “some of the best drinking” as the wines have evolved quickly in the bottle. She compares 2005 with 2010, saying most are in “a quiet lockdown phase.” The best 2006s also “need time.” The 2004s are fresh and drinkable whereas the variable, heat-wave 2003s should generally be consumed now.
The wines of 2002 appear “lighter and leaner,” and the 2001s can be “rewarding” and in some cases “more elegant and rewarding” than the “delicious” 2000s. Among older years, the author recommends 1996, 1995 and 1986 for “fully mature drinking now.” Finally, 1990, 1989 and 1982 “are still great at the top level” but “many a lesser wine” from these three celebrated years is “fading.”