Q. What do the chateau owners of Bordeaux have in common with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey?
A. Like him, they – or at least a fair number of them – fear and hate… Twitter.

Until quite recently, the Bordelais made use of fairly straightforward lines of communication when they wanted to tell the world about their latest wines. They simply showed them to a select group of merchants and critics who generally spread the word in a more or less predictable – and controllable – fashion. The merchants were a polite bunch who may have grumbled privately about prices but knew that, if they wanted to be sure of getting the next – possibly great – vintage they had to buy this – rather less attractive – one. And being overly critical of something they would have to sell made little commercial sense.

The press were rather less easy to manage, but a mixture of charm and hospitality – including the opening of a few choice older bottles – generally kept them on side too. They may have questioned whether the miraculous September really had rectified the damage caused by a cold rainy summer, but they rarely rocked the boat too vigourously.

Crucially, with the exception of less than a handful of globally-visible critics, few enjoyed an audience that extended beyond a small group of wine buffs and professionals in their own countries. Information also moved far more slowly. British Bordeaux buffs, for example, had to wait for weeks until Decanter had converted its tasting notes and marks into a glossy magazine.

Blogs and newsletters brought more immediacy, but it was Twitter that really changed the game. Almost overnight, news and views could be spread instantly and virally. Tasting notes appear on line almost as soon as the spit hits the spittoon – and the most interesting, and controversial, tweets are spread across the planet in a way that is as unpredictable and uncontrollable as the weather.

When producers were quoted in the French press as describing Chinese buyers as “stupid enough to pay the high prices” of the 2010s, the comment was picked up within hours by British bloggers whose tweets were translated into Mandarin and read by Chinese buyers who were not entirely pleased to be treated as fools. Punishment for the Bordelais came in the form of canceled purchases for those 2010s.

This year, comments by chateau owners about “a conspiracy by UK press to destroy the vintage” are coupled with teeth-clenched anger about Twitter. The favourable online chatter that appeared on the platform in 2009 and 2010 were acceptable; the negative response given to the 2013s and their pricing is evidently not. I can – almost – sympathise with the victims of all this criticism; nobody likes to hear uncomplimentary things being said about them and what they have done. But I’d sincerely recommend that they keep their anti social media feelings to themselves if they don’t want them to be spread – like this post – online, through the very same means of communication they so fear.

  1. This is a tremendous piece Robert and I'm thrilled you penned it. What does it say about a Chateau, or region, when all they wish to promote are the superlatives lauded each vintage, but not expose the real authenticity of said praise? I find it alarming and rather sad so many have so much power to persuade. Mother Nature is many things but you will not find “predictable” among her traits. Should't this be embraced? Rather it's frowned upon in pursuit of yet another “vintage of the century”. One starts to wonder how much Bordeaux wine is aging in cellars around the world that's simply average.
    There's exceptional wine made around the world every single year. One must dedicate some effort to locate and not merely be lead to slaughter for the sake of commerce. I would be more impressed if a chateau commented, “This was a brutally difficult year with the frost in May and the late August rains. I expect this wine to lack the intensity and age ability for which we're known so for that reason futures will be reduced 30% as we believe this wine will be best dunk young.” But people often call me a dreamer.

    Great piece!

  2. Thanks Martin. As someone who is professionally involved in helping wine producers to market their products, I understand their need to protect and promote their brands, but asking a high price for a poorer quality wine is not the way to do that. My solution for 2013 would have been for the chateaux to have opted not to make a first wine. That way, they could have honestly sold a good second wine at a fair price without jeopardising the reputation and value of their brand. As it is, they will both struggle to sell their second wines this year and face yet another challege when they come to price their 2014 first wines.

  3. It might not be the “way to do that” but they have the right to do it. It is their product and they decide the price to put on that product. Not you or I. Nor or they preventing us from voting with our feet and not buying the product and spending our money on more reasonable back vintages or from other areas of France and the world.

    As far as I am concerned as a customer, the circus of EP is white noise, both coming from the Chateaux owners and the Journalists aswell. I want to hear about the wines how they performed, what are the standouts? Then make decisions on the tasting notes written by the wine writers. I must say what has been written by journalists this year is a complete waste of my time as a collector of wine.

    Specifically I actually find this article a weak piece of writing. No where is there a directly attributable quote or opinion about social media from the Bordelaise. For my mind it comes across as opinion and presumption on your part Robert.

  4. It is the Bordeaux EP circus and we have to adjust our ears to all the white noise that emanates from the period. We should however be able to trust trade journalists/wine writers to be able to give us considered opinions about the vintage and the wines being drank to enable us when these wines are released to make an informed opinion as to whether or not to buy them. This year however the white noise from the Chateaux has been replied to with as much white noise from the journalists with regard to pricing strategy and attitude of the Chateaux owners, in this instance, about their alleged attitude towards social media. I have to say “alleged” as there is not one directly attributable quotate from them in this article

    I am sorry Robert, I but I have to say that this is a weak piece of journalism, because of the above fact of no directly attributable quotes and as such I have to say that it comes across as essentially presumption and your own personal opinion. There are two quotes and you have not directly attributed that to a person or Chateaux owner. Martin's response is I feel based upon his negative attitude towards the Chateaux pricing policy. But that of course is my opinion. A presumption on my part.

    Whilst I am annoyed myself at the high prices alot of the Chateaux have initially released at. I also do believe it is their right to set the price at what they want to. Just as it is my right to decide that the price is too high and pass on purchasing them. That is the law of the market place. 2009 is an excellent example of this, in that prices on alot of wine is 30% lower than EP starting prices. We also have to recognise that alot of Chateaux have invested both in the vineyard and winery, are much more selective at the triage process, so that whilst the wine is alot lighter style than better vintages, they are not poor wines like those of say 1992, 94 or 97. Investment in these processes increases the cost of the base unit, as does factors like the increase in barrique costs, labour etc. These of course do not account nor justify the prices set at this or any other vintage since 2005, but are more of a factor for Chateau like Batailley than say Montrose. But as I said the market place will justify the price or not. Stephen Browett of Farr is quoted as saying that whilst he has released Montrose at the price set, he does not expect sell a case of it.

  5. I note your criticism regarding the lack of attribution but the comments were made and recorded and reported in much the same way that I might have done about the buzz surrounding a politician or a political party. There was no need to single out any particular individual. Interestingly, if you follow me in Twitter, you'll have seen people who were in Bordeaux for the EP week acknowledging the accuracy of my comment about the Bordelais attitude to social media.

  6. Hi Robert. I'm a bit confused so I read pt 1 and looked through your tweets from the period in question — could you email me the tweet that instigated all this (the one that presumably quoted a Bdx producer mocking the Chinese openly)? I'd be much obliged! Thanks, mroconnell@gmail.com

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