Robert Parker, Bordeaux Primeurs and the New Decade: To be Graceful or not to be

(This executive summary is part of an exclusive VitaBella report)(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).
At the time when Robert Parker is in Bordeaux to evaluate the quality of the 2009s, this new decade may send a strong signal to the world of luxury wines: dark, concentrated, full of tannins and strong in alcohol are outdated criteria.
In the past, some producers followed these strict criteria in order to make their wines fit into a special premium niche. If they had full points in each of these criteria then they could have expected top international ratings and priced their wines very high. 2010 just started and the new decade will certainly change this point of view on luxury wines: Elegance and Grace will be key in the future. And to start with, let's be clear on the message: less alcohol doen't mean only lower alcohol but a better integrated alcohol and less tannins does not mean a lower level of tannins but elegant tannins. In this new decade, it may be less about analytical figures and more about how elegant and graceful the wines are.
This new approach of Luxury wines is not particular to Bordeaux but it seems that the Bordeaux Primeurs' tasting week, at the beginning of a new exciting decade, will make it recognized globally. All over the world, a new way of understanding luxury wines was already progressing in the last few years. Some great winemakers are saying it loud after having made experimentations, tasted their old vintage wines and discussed with some great european winemakers. A good example is Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards who is making elegant wines in California. Not only does it please the delicate palate of the japanese owners of this beautiful estate but Paul Draper's wines age beautifully and do not need to be "big monsters" at release time. Many other great winemakers in the world share this position. Randall Grahm, founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard wrote: “In the new world, quality is generally associated with saturated color, soft tannins, new oak and overall power . . . sort of like evaluating music on how loud it is played and how big a horn section one is able to deploy . . . someone has to stop this madness.”
Bordeaux Primeurs, at the turn of a new decade, may be the time when the world will hear this message loud. Journalists, wine critics and buyers will have the chance to taste, at an early stage, a vintage where Mother Nature has given the best of itself. In terms of natural conditions, Châteaux mention that 2009 was exceptional. But during Bordeaux Primeurs' tasting, two worlds may oppose; the old approach of Luxury wines and the new approach of Luxury wines. Some Bordeaux 2009 may be powerful and strong in alcohol and some may be elegant and balanced. After the last two decades of "body-builded wines" attracting international eyeballs, momentum may have come that a majority of professionnals would favour a more "balanced and graceful" approach. Then terroir and men's work will come back on the front scene. Tools of science and technology from adjusting tannins or darkening the color to technics to lower alcohol will be of minor interest and the capacity of winemakers to get adapted to their environment will be privileged. That will make the difference between luxury wines and others. In 2010, Bordeaux Primeurs' tasting week may be the time when this signal will be sent to the world.(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).


BMW, Audi and Forbes Reports: some good News for Luxury Wines?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr). India, China, Brazil...The luxury industry has great prospects and luxury car manufacturers' recent comments should bring confidence to luxury wine producers. Even in a troubled economy, consumers are willing to pay high prices for those brands with a high level of reliability. At the time when BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) and Volkswagen announced their earnings report and Forbes made public its Billionaires' list, it shows there is still money in this world and a strong appetite for luxury.

Earnings reports released by BMW and Volkswagen last week made the message clear enough: The market for luxury cars is recovering. Their sales stabilized on mature markets and grew in emerging countries like China and Brazil. In fact, luxury is doing pretty well: a soaring demand for higher-priced models like the top-of-line 7 Series contributed to BMW's gains. Sales of BMW’s most expensive cars (7 Series) showed a 36 percent increase to 52,680 cars. Moreover BMW said the X6 four-wheel-drive car and Z4 sports car also generated big sales increases. On its side, Volkswagen reported that its premium Audi unit accounted for almost all the operating profit of €1.9 billion. Emerging markets became a major focus and Audi wants to reach the N°1 position in India on premium car market by 2015. Clearly luxury car manufacturers see great prospects in a global evolving market.

Over the last 2 years, a lot of questions were raised internationally about how sustainable high prices for wines can be. Today, these questions are more particularly adressed to Bordeaux and Napa Valley wine producers. The car manufacturers' reports should make luxury wine producers less worried about their future than they may be at this period of time. But wineries should also be aware that if great opportunities effectively exist, 1) the markets for luxury have changed and 2) buyers' habits in the luxury world have also changed. These two points are extremely important and the new Forbes Billionaires' list was particularly interesting to understand where fortunes were today. For the first time in 16 years the richest man is not in the USA but from Mexico. Among the richest men in the world, 64 billionaires are chinese (versus 28 last year). These are the facts and luxury wine producers must take action in order to be in line with this new situation.

As a conclusion, Forbes has shown a new big picture and industry leaders revealed important figures and interesting medium to long-term strategies for luxury cars. In a similar position, wine producers must market their highly-priced bottles where luxury shoppers are. But only wineries with an up-to-date vision of the fast moving global environment will succeed in a troubled period.(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).


Bordeaux En Primeurs: Château Gruaud Larose holds a Clinic with Leading International Wine Experts

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr). Right before the Bordeaux En Primeurs Tasting Week, Château Gruaud Larose will hold its annual clinic in one of the most peaceful place in the world: Gruaud Larose’s cellars. Every year, the clinics provide owners of Gruaud Larose wines, the opportunity to have their wines assessed by Philippe Carmagnac, Gruaud Larose's winemaker. In 2010, Jean Merlaut, the owner of Château Gruaud Larose, will take this opportunity to focus more specifically on vintages ending in ‘0’ from 1950 down to 1840. Traditionally at Château Gruaud Larose, some wine experts are associated to this important event. This year, Château Gruaud Larose will be honoured to include the following persons in its clinic committee:
- Jeannie Cho Lee, First Asian MW
- Andreas Larsson, Current World’s best Sommelier
- Neal Martin, Wine critics/collaborates with Robert Parker
- Ian d’Agata, Wine journalist/collaborates with Stephen Tanzer
- Eric Boissenot, Oenologist Consultant
This annual clinic is a great moment for Château Gruaud Larose” said Jean Merlaut. “Every year, we write additional tasting comments in our historical books which reveal precious informations about each vintage at harvest time. Going back to 1840 is necessary because we have an increasing demand for the last 3 years, more specifically from Asia, to give recent tasting comments on very old vintages from Gruaud Larose.”
These bottles or magnums will be opened, tasted, judged and, if in good condition, will be topped up, recorked, recapsuled, a clinic back label will be affixed to certify the wine for quality and finally will be sold internationally to wine lovers. Thanks to this annual operation, only bottles in excellent condition are available for Gruaud Larose's customers. (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).


A New Luxury Wine in South Africa

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr). Kanonkop, a south african winery, added a luxury wine to its commercial strategy. According to Decanter Wine Magazine, Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2006, from the renowned Stellenbosch farm, has sold out of its first 600 bottles at R1000 (€95) and will release 400 more in March. This certainly makes it the most expensive Pinotage wine in the world.
When a winery has for mission to ensure that "Kanonkop continues to be regarded as South Africa’s equivalent of a First Growth", you would not expect less. But for a winery whose most expensive wine was up to now Paul Sauer, a R270 traditional blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it may sound strange. Moreover, Pinotage, a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, only makes up 6% of total vineyard area in South Africa and needs to get additional international coverage to be fully recognized.
But Kanonkop has a long history with this grape variety and built a strong credibility internationally. In fact, Kanonkop is renowned for its red wines and Pinotage makes up 50% of all its plantings. Their Pinotage vines, which have been retained as bush vines, were some of the first commercially planted Pinotage to be established at the Cape and most are over 50 years old.
At R1000, is it too expensive? In fact, when you only have 600 bottles on sale, you just have to give a call to your best friends and the deal is done. For the next vintages, time will tell as Kanonkop plans to sell 2012 "En primeur, Bordeaux style" and "develop a secondary market" by introducing the Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2012 in November to investors and the press while the wine is still in barrel.
Can a 100% Pinotage be a luxury wine? With a recently tasted Simonsig Redhill 2006 and other wines from Beyerskloof, DeWaal or Umkhulu, Pinotage shows a great potential. Moreover an increasing number of wine lovers appreciate autochtonous grape varieties and Pinotage has its place, by far, in the best ranks of wine critics' lists. And Kanonkop has such a long successful history that a new success seems easy to obtain for this great winery.(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).


Champagne Roederer and why protecting your Luxury Wine Brand is Critical

(This article is part of an exclusive VitaBella report)(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).
In the luxury wine market, a strategy focusing only on controlling quality, price and distribution network is not broad enough. The example of the French maker of Cristal champagne which is suing the Spanish maker of Cristalino sparkling wine reminds us that trademark infringement and unfair competition aspects must also be strictly monitored.
Why is it so important for a 300 US$ champagne producer to sue a spanish sparkling wine company which produces a 10US$ Cristalino Rose Brut? In fact, this is not about market shares (precise sales and marketing figures have been removed from the public court filings). It is about protecting a perennial brand, in other words a brand that is built to last for decades through bad and good economic conditions. Roederer wants to make sure that Cristal, a brandname they created in the past, will continue to develop in a rock-solid, lasting and recognizable brand. In that sense, this is a good example for luxury wine producers to consider the three major reasons why they should strictly monitor this kind of issues.
Social aspects
For Roederer, Cristal is not only a champagne, it is a "symbol of certain achievement in life,". Cristal is regarded by most as a symbol of wealth and status. In that sense, Roederer can not afford letting this brandname decline. On the contrary, Roederer must bring it even higher. All over the world, most consumers talk about Cristal Roederer and not the other way round, Roederer Cristal. On this aspect, the power of the Cristal brandname is very strong and protecting this name is key to reinforce the power of a name which is a symbol of status.
Accounting aspects
Most large companies value trademarks and brand names in their balance sheet. And increasing shareholder value is one of the top management's tasks over a medium and long term. So the higher the value of the brands, the higher the total value of the company will be in the future. This is the reason why protecting Roederer name is highly important and doing the same for Cristal brandname is key.
Brand extension aspects
If companies want to create and develop strong brands, they must protect them. If your business is global, you should protect them internationally. But you have to be fast and react immediately. At the end of the day, management's decision will always be related to how far they want to bring their brands and if brand extensions would be relevant for the company or not. If extending your brand - such as launching a new version of Cristal (Cristal Rosé is already one) or bringing to the market a new product attached to the Cristal brandname - is an opportunity in the future, it must be necessarily protected.
Some more aspects could be described to explain why a luxury wine producer should strictly monitor trademark infringement and unfair competition issues. And many more should come as
the power of brands in the future may continue to increase in the wine business. (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).


Why an Italian Luxury Wine goes to En Primeur Tasting in Bordeaux?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr). I was recently in Tuscany and visited one of the iconic wine producer with his Giorgio Primo, Giampaolo Motta. At La Massa, based in the renowned place of Panzano, Giampaolo makes Giorgio Primo, a wine that recently took 97 points in Wine Spectator for the 2007' vintage. I made a quick interview with him to understand why he was presenting Giorgio Primo 2009 during en Primeur tasting in Bordeaux at the end of March.
Why is 2009' Giorgio Primo presented to Bordeaux en Primeur?
GM: “And why not? Since the 2007 vintage which made us recognized among the best wines in the world, we have a strong demand from clients who are used to buy Bordeaux grand Cru en Primeurs. It makes this approach quite natural in a vintage 2009 which is as exceptional for La Massa as it is in Bordeaux.Moreover I am impassioned with grands crus from Bordeaux, so I am glad to associate my wine to those great wines during an exceptional tasting."
What is the history of Giorgio Primo?
GM: “Giorgio Primo gets back to the tradition in Tuscany. Since early 1600, vine growing in Tuscany was revolutionized by grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The leading person in this revolution was Cosimo 3rd of Medicis which was an expert and a great wine passionate. At La Massa, it is the history of generations and generations of people who worked these unique soils here in Panzano and bring their input on the noble grape varieties from Bordeaux. Indeed, if the history of La Massa goes back to 1490, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties were found here nearly 400 years ago. I perpetuate this long history at La Massa with my own view, always with rigour and classicism.
How would you define Giorgio Primo 2009 ?
GM: "Imagine a Château in Bordeaux full of crazy and impassioned italians. This is what Giorgio Primo is, especially during a year which gave us extraordinary surprises. It is my way of interpreting the Grand Vin from Bordeaux with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and our delicious Petit Verdot. A Grand Vin with a unique italian crazyness! For this vintage 2009, just like 2007, Giorgio Primo shows finesse, balance, and silky tannins. In 2009 Petit Verdot brings a further complexity to cabernet sauvignon and merlot. It is the kind of wine which I like today for its freshness and its fine tannins, which I will also like in 10 years and which still will be completely crazy in 20 years. I adore the Grand Vin from Bordeaux after 15/20 years but I much prefer them with an italian crazyness touch. This is Giorgio Primo 2009! (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr).