30 novembre 2007
Our distinguished colleagues of Decanter herald the end of the « garage-wines », a concept born in the Bordeaux of 1990 with names like Valandraud and Tertre Roteboeuf. This deserves a closer look.
From the very beginning, the concept has been quite revolutionary. In a region where fame and glory takes centuries to develop and ripe, some obscure wine-addicts decided to put aside the “terroir” consideration (the fact that they did not own famous “crus” may have been a good reason) and focussed on vine-keeping and winemaking techniques to produce what they saw as the “next best thing to a grand cru”.
Partly because of their dedication (very small yield, selection of grapes, concentration, careful maturation in high quality oak barrels, micro-cuvées…), and partly because it was new, and thus attracted journalists and buyers looking for different stories and new commercial opportunities, it worked.
Michel and Bob as godfathers
The expression “Garage-wine” (or rather, vin de garage, was coined by the French journalist Michel Bettane, then working for the Revue des Vins de France, an influential magazine which contributed to the success of the concept in the country. Then came Robert Parker, who gave it an international dimension. “Bob” liked the idea, and liked the wines (generally very ripe and concentrated). Others were not so enthusiastic – David Spurrier, at Decanter, saw it as a fad. Famous Grand-Cru owners in Bordeaux also turned their nose at seeing the newcomers challenge the supremacy of their celebrated terroir.
They said it was pure marketing – to their minds, trying to adapt one’s wines to the modern consumers’ palate is a heresy. Even if Australian winemakers have shown it was a good move, at least commercially, Bordeaux gentlemen still think they play in a totally different league.
Anyway, the emergence of the garage-wines had at least one good influence, in the Grand-Cru circles; for it drew their attention back on the winemaking. When one is the “heir” to a grand terroir, one has a naturally tendency to think the wine is naturally good. But if garage-wines could reach the quality level of a Grand-Cru by improving the winemaking, famous château-owners began to think they could only regain their status by investing in the winemaking: once the technique level was even, one would hear the terroir “speak” again, they though.
It was only partly true. For even great châteaux cannot always replicate what the garage-men do at such a small size.
Of course, as the success came, it attracted other operators. The two original “popes” of the garage-wines, Jean-Luc Thunevin and Francois Mitjaville, made a lot of converts. Even cooperatives began to launch exclusive cuvées. In Bordeaux and outside – Listel’s Cuvée Mythique, for one, is clearly inspired by the garage-wines.
I do not think marketing was at the centre of Thunevin’s interests when he launched Valandraud (even if he was a banker by trade). But is was in many of its followers.
Nothing but very natural: the “offer” of Grand Cru Classés estates is quite limited, much more so than the will to make good wine and sell it at an expensive price (or is it the other way round?).
Some critics think the “fad” is over. They are not convinced by the ageing capacity of the style of wine the “garage-men” have been making. According to them, a great terroir distinguishes itself by this capacity. Not everybody agrees with this view “but of course, we can only go back 15 years in time, 30 years would be better”, says Louis Havaux (FIJEV Predisent, and a member of the Grand Jury Européen, familiat to the vintage grand crus).
Some observers also point out that a Château like Valandraud has a very good terroir indeed – small sized (2.5 ha), but first rate.
In short, garage wines are not always as inferior to grands crus as our British colleagues may think. They are not dead, nor dying. The only thing that is dying is the name – some prefer “petits crus”, others do not care.
The fact is that 15 years after they were launched, the concept is not new anymore, and that the general public is looking for new things; ultra-concentrated wines have become out of fashion, and the name garage wine may be associated too closely to this kind of wine.
But more important, some of they, like Valandraud, are now part of the establishment (or nearly). No-one would find it bizarre it it entered the Saint Emilion Classement (if they was one again). Also, thanks to their commercial success, the pionneers of garage wines have bought vines and often own good crus, today.
So in fact, the garage-man is not dead: he’s now a recognized gentleman-farmer.
A bottle of Valandraud 2000 is sold around 130 euros, and that means respectability.
(c) Hervé Lalau
Article first published on www.flyingwinewriter.com
27 novembre 2007
Nicolas Reverdy, du Domaine Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy (Maimbray/Sury-en-Vaux), est décédé des suites d'un accident de voiture.
Avec son frère Pascal, il tenait les rênes de l'exploitation depuis 1993, et l'avait amenée au plus haut niveau du Sancerre.
Toutes nos condoléances à Pascal et à sa famille.
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