Véronique Sanders, director of Château Haut Bailly, has acknowledged the role played by critic Robert Parker in Bordeaux’s recent run of good vintages.
Graves property Haut Bailly
Speaking to the drinks business at a vertical tasting of the estate going back to 1998 hosted by the Antique Wine Company, Sanders the influence of Parker was one of the factors in Bordeaux’s dramatic rise in ascendency.
“In the last 15 years, the way we make wine has changed hugely,” she said. “Decades ago we struggled with some vintages but since 1998 we haven’t really had a bad one.”
She continued that before Parker came along there were very few châteaux actually making much money.
The interest he helped generate in the region led to an influx of money which in turn led to producers being able to reinvest in technology and make better wines and more money.
“Since Parker came along with his points,” she said, “he has pushed us to do better.
“He got us making better wine and as a business. Wine was a hobby before in my grandfather’s day.
“I don’t know many producers who will buy themselves a new Rolls Royce or Ferrari but they will buy a new sorting machine for example.”
On the other hand, she admitted too that there had been a swing in recent years towards wines that were “too ripe, particularly on the Right Bank with the Merlot.”
However, she argued, there was a difference between ripe and over-ripe and that some producers liked to be seen to be the last to harvest, “to show how late they are.”
However, while accepting Parker’s role in this success, Sanders added that what was more important was consistency from the wine and not solely the opinion of critics.
She noted one occasion when Parker had scored a vintage poorly but her distributors told their clients that he was wrong and that it was still a must buy wine.
At a later date Parker drastically reviewed his score and admitted he had made a mistake.
Highlighting how rigorous this search for consistency was, Sanders explained that: “If we are not happy with the quality (of a vintage), we will not bottle Haut Bailly. It’s a very expensive decision believe me. ”
This was the case in 1991, for which only the second wine was made.
Commenting on this year’s progress, she reported that it was two to three weeks behind the average but that the weather was good now and expected to continue.
“I talked with the consultant recently and he said we can still have a good vintage,” she said.
‘The game is not yet played but spring was very difficult. We will do what we can, we want quality not quantity.
“We always have to do what we can with factors we cannot control. You begin each year saying, ‘this is going to be the best,’ and then as it goes on you come to accept what you have.”