Why a Dodgy Vintage will be Good News

Bad news for Bordeaux? A decidedly lacklustre En Primeur campaign for the top 2011s (good wines but many were overpriced) and now the crucial flowering of the vines for 2012 looks to be late and uneven. This could, though, be a welcome break for people who actually buy the stuff to drink.

In complete contrast to last year, when the vines budded early and then a very warm, dry Spring helped to accelerate the growth, 2012 has got off to a slow start. The weather has been mixed to date, although with gorgeous weather in late May, things were looking up.

Early June is a crunch time in the vines, with the unspectacular but vital ‘flowering’. Rain over the first two weekends of the month has caused some uneven fruit set in the Merlot, the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux, and the one that is more sensitive to adverse conditions at this time than other varieties.


These Merlot vines at a top Pomerol estate are next to each other…

… but they are at a different stage of flowering, with these bunches being a fortnight behind.










In Bordeaux, we growers talk of the floraison being ‘hétérogène’ or ‘homogène’. 2012 is looking hétérogène, with grapes forming at different stages from one vine to another, one bunch to another or even within the same bunch. It could still be a very good vintage, don’t get me wrong, but good, even fruit set and a relatively early flowering tend to lead to a better vintage. This looks more like a 2008, say, than a 2009.

Personally, I think a ‘mixed’ vintage would be good news for wine lovers. After the outstanding but expensive 2009s, and the even more expensive 2010s (which in many cases are better than ’09), the leading wines simply cost too much.

Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners, the UK’s leading Bordeaux wine merchant, made his feelings clear in his characteristically frank ‘Bordeaux 2011 En Primeur – Final Report’:

“The overall average decrease on 2010 has been only 15.81% with an average increase over 2008 release prices of 44.47%. This is totally ridiculous and the proprietors of Bordeaux have only themselves to blame for the failure of most wines to find a market.”

I spoke to a Bordeaux négociant last week. His firm buys and sells huge amounts of top Bordeaux en primeur. “The 2011s are dead in the water. The 2012s will have to be at least 20% cheaper to sell, so where would that leave the price of the 2011s? Too high.”

A considerable drop in price for many wines is needed. As Sebastian Payne MW, who has just retired as the buyer for The Wine Society, said in the recent Bordeaux supplement in Decanter magazine:

“As a wine drinker and buyer, I devoutly hope all 2011 clarets score less than 80 (Parker) points so that we can afford to enjoy the many lovely wines on offer. The economic downturn is putting pressure on this year’s prices and will, I am sure, continue to do so with the 2012 vintage.”

Nature might just be turning the screw.

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4 thoughts on “Why a Dodgy Vintage will be Good News

  1. John R.

    In Saint-Emilion they do NOT have a dodgy vintage – or so I have been advised by chatueaux owners!!!! What they do have, or so they say, are "challenging" vintages!!!! So, now you know!!!

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks for the comment, John. I would agree that in St-Emilion they don't have dodgy vintages, only 'challenging' ones. Those Chateaux which were hit by hail in May 2009 certainly had a challenging vintage.
      But there are rather too many dodgy wines being made – then again, it is an enormous appellation.

  2. John R

    Further to my comment below (and thanks for your response Gavin) one chateau owner (a well-known chateau) was asked which he preferred out of the latest two Vintages of the Century, the 2009 or the 2010?!!

    He replied that we all have/had a mother and a father – which do we prefer? Surely they are different, so hard to have a preference!!!

    Hard to argue with that!! John

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks for the comment, John. The Chateau owner's comment is a variation on the standard response from some producers: 'my wines are like children, difficult to say you prefer one over the other' etc. First time I heard it, I thought it was quite charming. But after the tenth, not so much. I'd like to reply, 'stop talking nonsense and tell us what you think' but I rarely do.