Time for a Change, Doctor?

POSTED ON 05/04/2012

Chris Kissack, aka The Wine Doctor says:

“I find myself drawn towards commenting on how the Twittersphere and the primeurs are intertwined, simply because it is easy to fall into the trap of talking about Twitter, where it seems some wine journalists are either (a) trying to police what everybody else Tweets about, or (b) putting themselves on a pedestal where they judge not only the wines, but what everybody else says about the wines. As one person said at dinner last night, it has all the bitchiness of a girl’s boarding school. I wouldn’t know about that (honest!), but I do know I find wine writers picking at other wine writers on Twitter to be tiresome”.

Dear Chris,

In the wake of the 2010 vintage débàcle and the clear message from Bordeaux that press hype contributed to pushing prices up after the very high opening prices for 2009, there were many legitimate criticisms from the press and with them a call for change.

It was widely, albeit not universally, acknowledged that in the light of the en primeur shenanigans, the system shifted still further away from the consumer towards the château. The last thing Bordeaux wine lovers need is the press talking up the vintage before prices are released (and there’s been much talking up already this year, despite the fact that it appears as variable as reported before en primeur week).

If a call for change was made, it seems that it has not been heeded, not even by those who did the calling. I think it’s legitimate to draw attention to this and if necessary to challenge motives without being accused of ‘trying to police’ or ‘putting [yourself] on a pedestal’.

It may still be true that the one person Bordeaux really listens to is Bob Parker, but it’s a lazy let-off for the press to say. ‘I would do it, if only Parker did it’. It offloads the responsibility from the individual advocating change and continues to entrench what many see as a flawed system.

You can ignore the fact that the press has an influence on the Bordeaux en primeur campaign (but why otherwise the lavish hospitality?) and that with inconsistent and unreliable samples on top, everything is far from perfect and that reform of the system is overdue. It would be sticking an ostrich head in the sand to pretend it’s not happening and that all is well in the best of all possible worlds.

If you think the system is wrong and needs changing, then you have to argue your case in whatever manner you can. I decided not to go to Bordeaux this year not because I don’t enjoy en primeur, or Bordeaux itself (I do), or because I don’t think it’s valid (it can be).

The response from one journalist to my not going was ‘I admire your stand but has anyone noticed’? Maybe not, but sometimes it’s worth shouting about what you believe in even if pissing in the wind makes you a little hoarse and sore in the process.

I do think that even with its imperfections Bordeaux en primeur is valid in a really good or great year when prices are such that they give some benefit to consumers. I doubted that that would be the case with 2011 and still do.

Unless the vintage is an excellent one and consumers really are going to benefit from en primeur, I think it’s better to wait until the wines are closer to being bottled or even in bottle to make the necessary judgment. Nothing is lost by this approach and there’s everything to be gained. In particular for consumers. Isn’t that who we’re writing for?

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