Waiting for the storm

June 9th 2014, by

We’ve had our fair share of hail over the years. And tonight, the forecast is for a huge storm running from the South West of France, heading north.


The G-word – Grêle – is the one we fear most. It’s rare to see mention of giant grêlons in advance.

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Bordeaux 2014 – the start of the flowering

June 3rd 2014, by

Evangile 1 June 2014 - 44The flowering has started in Bordeaux and, with any luck, the weather might just be with us for this critical stage of the growing season.

What a difference a year makes. In Bordeaux 2013 – running late, I wrote “There hasn’t been a poor vintage in Bordeaux for twenty years but the cold, damp weather, as we approach the critical month of June, is a gentle reminder that anything can happen.”

Bordeaux 2014 has been up and down so far and, of course, there’s a long way to go. Somehow though, as I tried to cheer up some fellow growers during a cold spell recently, it feels like it’s going to be a good year.

We had an early budbreak and, while it is certainly not a huge crop, the number of potential bunches is about right – for quality. (Nothing like a decade ago when so much green harvesting took place in the summer of 2004, following on from two years of low yields.)

We’ve had intermittent rain and sun, and a huge variation in Spring temperatures from one spell to the next; everyone has had to work hard to combat the threat of mildew as you’d expect in such conditions. But it’s looking good.

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Bordeaux 2013 en primeur off and running

March 28th 2014, by

Pontet Canet 2011 - 144When Jancis Robinson asked me on Tuesday to write a piece setting the scene for the annual en primeur tastings next week, I don’t think anyone was expecting the first release of the campaign so soon.

Alfred Tesseron of Chateau Pontet Canet surprised more than a few people by releasing the price of his 2013 to the Bordeaux trade on Wednesday. It’s the first time a leading Chateau has put its wine on sale before the world’s wine merchants – and most critics – have had a chance to taste it.

Given that Pontet Canet (above right) has been on a hot streak of late, all the Bordeaux negociants I spoke to will be taking up the offer rather than risk losing future allocations. Most importers – who buy in turn from the negociants – are (quite rightly) saying that they’ll wait to try the wine first before committing themselves.

Palmer, 6 Oct 2010 - 47’It caught everyone by surprise’ said Charlie Sichel of Maison Sichel, who part-own Chateau Palmer (left). ’In view of the strength of the brand, and assuming the quality of the wine is approved by our customers when they come to taste next week, it might be quite clever. It’s a move that the entire Bordeaux trade will focus on; but there are very, very few Chateaux with such strong brand equity as Pontet Canet and any message to proprietors to release a small amount of wine at the same price is dangerous.’

Pontet Canet’s 2013 yields were ’lilliputien’ according to winemaker Jean-Michel Comme, about half the norm at 15hl/ha and a fraction of the 40hl/ha or so of the outstanding 2010 vintage. Allocations of the 2013 to negociants are therefore 50% down on last year.

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Mis en bouteille au Château

March 28th 2014, by

Lafite in May iPhone - 27We’re bottling our 2013 dry white and rosé this week. A massive mobile machine is temporarily installed next to the winery, and a team of ten are labelling and packing the bottles into cartons of six, our preferred pack size from now on. The same outfit – from Thierry Bergeon – can also been seen at Chateau Lafite (right), so we’re in good if somewhat expensive company.

In order to have the words ‘bottled at the Chateau’ on the label, the wine can’t be shipped off in bulk and bottled elsewhere. Although we have our own bottling machine, we’ve been using these guys for a few years now and using outside contractors is common practice, even at many of the top estates.

This company is also far better equipped to deal with both Stelvin screwcaps and corks – for this bottling, we’re using just Stelvin+ for white and rosé. They have the skilled manpower to pack everything up quickly and efficiently, not least because we have separate labels for Rick Stein, Gordon Ramsay and Hotel du Vin, as well as the regular Bauduc label.

Below is a gallery of photos.

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New Bauduc labels, new boxes

March 27th 2014, by

004269-BAUDUC-bb2013We’ve added a ’when to drink’ image to each back label and removed the QR code. If you’re wondering what a QR code is, that’s why we’ve ditched it. We have also taken on board what the lovely sommeliers at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant observed when they changed ’Chateau Bauduc Bordeaux Blanc’ to ’Chateau Bauduc Sauvignon Blanc’ on the wine list.

Roni and Jason suggested that they change the title of our wine on the list, and sales have gone up fourfold. We also asked our friend Laura Clay, who hosts many Bordeaux tastings in the UK, to briefly survey the audience at one event. 58 out of 60 people said that they would be more likely to buy a wine called Sauvignon Blanc than Bordeaux Blanc.

Finally, having scanned the shelves of supermarkets in England at Christmas, there were an awful lot of cheap Bordeaux Blancs on offer. Of course, there are cheap Sauvignon Blancs too but it’s a popular grape; so we’ve decided to go with Chateau Bauduc Sauvignon Blanc.

Our old-vine Sémillon label, Les Trois Hectares, hasn’t changed.

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Bordeaux 2013 yields down 27%, bulk prices up 27%

March 27th 2014, by

Most fine wine merchants are looking for lower prices of the top Bordeaux 2013s for the wines to have any chance of selling. At the lower end of the market, meanwhile, bulk prices have shot up because the crop was much smaller than previous years. We’ve paid special attention to this as we’ve sold off some wine that didn’t make the cut, thanks to the dreaded hail.

004278-05As you can see, the yield for 2013 is dramatically down across Bordeaux. 2011 and 2012 were both thought to be smaller crops at the time but 2013 is 27% down on 2012.

As a result, Good Ordinary Claret just got more expensive. Here are the figures for the Bordeaux appellations that make up the bulk of Bordeaux by volume.


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UK Budget – good and bad

March 26th 2014, by

George Osborne scrapped the ghastly duty escalator on wine, which has seen UK duty increase 58% in 6 years to £2.46 a bottle. Hooray. The bad news for wine lovers (and, ahem, producers) is that wine was singled out for an inflation-linked increase, unlike spirits, cider and beer. Here’s my updated map, showing how the UK has the second highest duty on wine in Europe.

Ireland, look away now.

And here’s the updated graph showing the duty increase since 2000.


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10 Takeaways from ProWein

March 26th 2014, by

IMG_1844I just got back from ProWein, the massive wine trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany. 48,000 visitors (up 7% from last year), 4,800 exhibitors from 48 countries. Here are ten things I learned about networking, wine and trade shows.


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March news – Bottling, new labels and Bordeaux 2013

March 26th 2014, by

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Why the duty on wine in Britain and Ireland is unfair

February 11th 2014, by

WSTA-twitter-logoRight now there’s a welcome initiative in Britain called Call Time on Duty, organised by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The aim is to persuade George Osborne to scrap the automatic duty escalator in this year’s Budget on 19 March.

If I had to pick one reason why the level of duty on wine in the UK and Ireland is unfair, it is this:


Source: data from ec.europa.eu, with update for Ireland. UK duty on sparkling wine is £3.07, including VAT on the duty but not on the wine.

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