Behind the Golden Veil

Mar 29, 2006

I was tasting some great wines from the Right Bank yesterday, including Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc, Le Pin, Vieux Château Certan and Ausone, and I ran into a grower I know from Graves, and he reminded me of some sad truths about Bordeaux at the moment.

He said that he felt strange that all the wine world – some say 5,000 wine merchants will arrive in Bordeaux in a few days – is coming to the region to taste 2005, but doesn't really gave a damn about the small wine producers of the region.

“It’s strange that everyone will be driving all over the area to visit various châteaus, but there will be so many who won’t be visited,” he said, very sadly. “They will be at their gates looking out and wondering why nobody wants to visit them.”

It sounds very dramatic, but it appears to be the truth. The financial situation for the average wine producer – and there are more than 10,000 – is terrible. I heard from one négociant yesterday that he was paying the equivalent of about $1.20 a bottle for simple Bordeaux in bulk from the great 2005 vintage. “It doesn’t seem possible,” he said. “But it is very, very sad.”

He said that many properties are for sale, not only big ones. “The banks a few years ago were giving people 110 percent financing to buy wine properties, and now they want their money back,” he said. “It is shameful.”

The banks may well have given the producers ropes to hang themselves. There seems no way out of their misery. The market is just not there, even with the quality of 2005.

In fact, many small producers did not have the money to properly maintain their vineyards or make their wines. I tasted a number of barrel samples today from small châteaus that were pretty mediocre.

What a shame. What a pity. The reputation of 2005 Bordeaux will not be enough to save many.

So it's important to remember that not everyone in Bordeaux appears to be celebrating his or her good fortune with the 2005 vintage.

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