Published 24 June 2013
In May, I went on a 48-hour trip to Bordeaux. It’s a fantastic city (see my recent post) and I’d definitely recommend a visit. But I wanted to know about the real Bordeaux from an insider’s perspective. Is the city really as good as I experienced? What is the truth about the wine industry? Fortunately, I was in Bordeaux as a guest of a wine consultant who could tell me.
“Bordeaux has three parts and is like a pyramid”, Olivier Dauga began. At the top is the premier cru which accounts for only about 2% of the wines but 100% of Bordeaux’s image. Unfortunately, as Dauga explains, they are “the untouchable side of Bordeaux: inaccessible to most visitors and, whilst they are supposed to portray the positive, grand image of Bordeaux, they do the opposite and make Bordeaux look bad.” By this Dauga means that, whilst the rest of France and the world is finding innovative approaches to winemaking, these Chateaux are standing still.
Next are the producers who have decided to run properties and make affordable, accessible wines. They are often unknown, so they lack image and reputation and have to build their brand by travelling all over the world to sell their brand – which takes a lot of time and money. Most of Dauga’s clients belong to this sector.
Finally, there is the bulk wine. It’s not bad quality (it’s often bought by negocients and made into branded wine), but they are “in a catastrophic position”, says Dauga. “They are closing. Vineyards are being replaced by houses. We are losing winemaking knowledge [because they cannot survive].” The bulk market is important for Bordeaux as it is many people’s livelihood and therefore important for the city’s economy. This problem isn’t limited to Bordeaux; it’s happening in the Languedoc and Rhone too. Dauga’s solution is financial assistance to help them survive.
The glimmer of hope comes from Bordeaux city. “I am optimistic”, Dauga states with a rarely seen serious face. “The city of Bordeaux has changed … and is bringing people to the area”. He begins listing the improvements:
- There has been a huge regeneration of the city’s riverbank
- Tourism has increased (including the giant cruise ships that are docking on the Garonne)
- It is considered the second best city in the world for cycle paths
- There is a thriving new bar scene – about 3 years ago there were no bars in Bordeaux; now young entrepreneurs are opening wine bars and artisan shops as rent is very affordable
- Bordeaux has a great university
- Due to the affordable property prices and a great quality of life (it’s trendy, has good nightlife, is near the ocean…) it has an influx of young people moving to live there from Paris
- In 2016, the TGV from Paris will take only 2 hours (it’s currently 3 hours 15 minutes)
Despite his earlier pessimism, Dauga concludes on a positive note: “Wine is a good excuse to get people to come to Bordeaux to show off the city and meet people.” I just hope this is enough to quash the tide of the lower-priced wine producers selling up.
Olivier Dauga is a wine consultant who, working with 25-30 clients, helps bring out the best in their wines: “I don’t impose my own ideas, but develop their’s.”
I was invited to Bordeaux as a guest of wine consultant Olivier Dauga, but I received no remuneration other than flights, accommodation, food and drink. All opinions are still my own.