The Winemaker’s Fraud in Bordeaux is Called Out
The Drinks Business has published a damning and slicing editorial (endorsed by the entire “Staff”) that condemns what appears to be the widespread practice of Bordeaux vintners to “doll up” or “sex up” a sample of the most recent vintage to show to the trade during the all important En Primeur week when the last vintage’s wines are tasted through and assessed. To put it another, Drinks Business is condemning the widespread practice of fraud in Bordeaux.
If I understand correctly, many Bordeaux houses are creating special barrels of wine that do not reflect the current state of the wine in order to make them appear for opulent, more developed and more complete at the time of the En Primeur tastings than they normally would.
French consultant Stephan Derenoncourt explains the process:
“Our method is to remove a bit of each distinct parcel and to put them through a special preparation to speed up the elevage. Therefore we put them into barrel earlier than the others, straight after the running off in fact, so that the marriage between the wines and the wood may happen more naturally than if we were to put the wines through that at a later date.”
Drinks Business evaluates this practices and concludes, properly, that the true purpose of this hocus pocus “is to deceive, to make people believe something that is untrue, in this case we might say to swallow evidence that is fallacious.”
Let me translate this for American readers: There is no reason to trust the Bordeaux vintners.
We have nothing like “En Primeur” Week in the U.S. where a region’s wines are presented for evaluation while still very young and in advance of pricing and where merchants, importers and brokers can, upon tasting, commit to purchasing various wines. What we have are press samplings and the occasional instance where some critics taste wines that are still in barrel. From tasting the bottled samples and the samples of a wine still in barrel, critics will produce an evaluation of the wine for publication. This is standard stuff. I’ve been arranging for bottled samples for the media for more than twenty years.
But to be clear, it would be equally easy for a U.S. vintner to concoct a “special” barrel of wine that could be bottled up purely for sampling purposes. The question is could this barrel be made to appear something more, something greater, something more elevated than what is represented by the rest of the barrels that get bottled up for sale. Of course it could. One might start by simply segregating a specific part of a vineyard that always produces more opulent, more complete, more intense fruit and vinify it separately for the purposes of barreling it down separately and bottling separately. Or one might use a different kind of barrel to extract a specific type of flavor component known to produce a more attractive wine when young. Or, one might utilize a variety of additions or techniques on a small batch of wine that produces something more attractive to critics.
The fact is, the ways by which preparations to deceive can be undertaken are too numerous to mention.
Does this happen here in the states? I’ve never been privy to such a thing. But I’m just a marketer and publicist. I don’t work in the cellar and I don’t prepare the samples to be sent off to critics and reviewers. But my guess is that it probably has happened and it probably has happened on numerous occasions. The upside of a very good review from the right critics has surely been enough to induce fraudulent behavior in vintners.
As for the fraudulent practice that appears to have been uncovered in Bordeaux and properly and courageously condemned by The Drinks Business editorial, the only question that remains is how the trade will react to the evidence that they are being purposefully deceived by Bordeaux vintners? A fraud is only as useful as there is a willingness to be deceived.