Pierre Lurton, managing director of Château d’Yquem, said that the legendary 250-acre Bordeaux estate will not produce a 2012 Sauternes due to insufficient quality. “We tried everything possible, but nature didn’t give us a choice,” Lurton told Wine Spectator.
Horribly wet weather during harvest this year left Yquem with grapes for just 800 cases of sweet wine rather than the usual 8,000 to 10,000 (worth roughly $33 million in sales), so the financial dice had already been thrown, said Lurton. And what remained lacked the Premier Grand Cru Supérieur estate’s hallmark concentration and complexity, he added.
“Why release it? To show we’re present in a vintage? Economically and for the image of Yquem, it would not have been the best demonstration,” said Lurton. Normally the wine might have gone into a second wine, but Yquem doesn’t make one. Instead it will likely be declassified and sold off in bulk. The estate did produce 10,000 bottles of its dry white wine, “Y,” picked prior to the rains, but the sweet wine simply failed to pass muster. “We were not convinced of the quality. It’s rare but it happens.”
The 2012 growing season was challenging in Sauternes. The spring was wet and cold, leading to uneven flowering. In June, mildew swept through the region, devastating yields. A sunny, dry reprieve in late July turned into a punishing drought by September. Dry conditions meant botrytis mold arrived late, pushing back harvest until October. And when October arrived, so did the rain. And more rain.
Yquem did not produce a wine in 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1964, 1972, 1974 and 1992. But Lurton’s decision has aggravated some of his Sauternes and Barsac neighbors who produced a 2012 wine and worry that Yquem's decision will scare buyers away. “We didn't make a single bottle in 1992, 1993, 1994, and in 1995, we had a half-crop. We also know how to skip a vintage,” said Denis Dubourdieu, co-owner and winemaker at Barsac's Doisy-Daëne. “Believe me if I say I've made a good wine. I can't allow myself to produce a wine that is not at the level of the reputation of Doisy-Daëne.”
“We had to be on the top of our game,” said Aline Baly, co-owner of Château Coutet, which produced half their normal yields. “You have to stay positive. This is part of the challenge of being in the business. Our wines are not factory-made. Every vintage is unique. This one will be about balance.” For many châteaus, the yields were distressingly low. Château de Fargues produced less than 300 cases. Château Guiraud will be lucky to produce 1,000 cases rather than its usual 11,000.
But a few producers say they did rather well, considering. At Château Sigalas Rabaud, the Marquis de Lambert des Granges reported normal yields of a relatively good vintage that is “very aromatic, fresh and elegant, and worthy of Sigalas Rabaud.”
At Doisy-Daëne, yields were down by 30 percent. “When one must cross a rough ocean, the bad weather is not the same for everyone,” said Dubourdieu. “The team at Doisy-Daëne was well-equipped to handle rough water."
The worry for many producers is that Yquem’s decision will cast a shadow over the wine they battled to produce.
“I can see how it would be, on occasion, unpleasant for the other estates when Yquem doesn’t produce a vintage, but overall, in the long-term, it’s good for the image of the appellation,” said Lurton.
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