Monday, February 07, 2005

Noble Rot–A Bordeaux Wine Revolution (book review by PB)

William Echikson–Wine Columnist for the Wall street Journal (Europe)–writes a telling expose on the holy land of wine and the nobles who run the Chateau and the industry.

The independent artisans of French enology are an endangered species. Indeed the whole French wine monopoly is being undone by a world wine market that is raising up rival competitors who are interested only in producing good if not high quality wine at a reasonable profit without the economic impact of French snootiness and French arrogance (which tends to spikes the price of Bordeaux wine.)

Not unlike the metamorphosing industry in the U.S., France has other challenges to what was once an essential monopoly on prestigious wine. Mega corporations buying the chateau combined with an overly regulated industry, ungrateful politics and owners with egos larger than their vineyards, and you have the makings for a revolution.

Realizing their falling market share and the overall decline in quality of all but the best producers, one solution was to jack the quality of wine being produced. So the members of the Sauveterre co-op under the direction of Remi Garuz turned years of standard operating procedure and tradition on its head. Oversight and regulation would be the order of the day micro managing everything from how to prune the vines, how many grapes would be harvested at a time as well as when, precisely, they would be harvested. At one meeting the vineyard owners had gathered and a battle ensued as to whether harvesting should begin on the upcoming Friday or wait until Monday–all of which was weather dependant. At the end of the day, a vote was taken and the time harvest established. What this does to the individualism and talent of the vignerons should be obvious.

Throughout the pages of Noble Rot one name looms gargantuan and its not even French–Robert Parker...

When Godzilla came a shore he terrorized the streets of the city stomping one building into oblivion while sparing the next. Parker became the American Godzilla with the power to stomp one chateau into bankruptcy by giving simply giving its wine a mediocre score while being the savior of others through a merciful Parker “thumbs up.” So important was the sentiment of Robert Parker on the success of a particular wine, that producers started making their offerings to the taste preference of the Don of Wine. Needless to say, the name of Robert Parker is both infamous and famous.

France’s wine legacy is faltering and has been even before September 11th. The future does not look healthy for the industry as a whole with the exceptions of the great growths. The Margaux’s and Y’Quems, Petrus’ and Lafites as well as scores of others will continue to do well. But–and this is my opinion, not the author’s– I see a day coming when even that may very well change. Market forces have come to bear everywhere else and as the quality of wine in general continues to improve, and the palates (and pocket books) of wine consumers become more educated, the outrageous prices of the best of Bordeaux will--sooner or later–be forced to actually compete on a global scale. You’re never going to see a $30 bottle of Lafite but the days of $1000 a bottle of Petrus are destined to fall. I’m not talking in the next decade, but then again...

No comments: