Cru Bourgeois fills gap left by Bordeaux price hikes23rd September, 2013 by Gabriel Savage
Reliable quality and good value were the key themes to emerge as the official selection of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc from the 2011 vintage was unveiled in London last week.
Reviewed each year, the 2011 selection incorporates 256 different producers across eight Médoc appellations, which together account for around 28 million bottles, or around 30% of the Médoc’s production.
Each bottle features a Cru Bourgeois sticker with a unique code, which not only offers shelf standout and additional protection against fraud, but features a QR code taking consumers to the association’s website for more information about the classification.
Although the Cru Bourgeois system has existed since the 1930s, its criteria were tightened in 2003 before the current set-up of an independently managed blind tasting panel carrying out an annual assessment was introduced from the 2008 vintage.
With UK retail prices for these wines positioned between £9 and £30, François Nony, vice-president of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, stressed the classification’s ability to offer “pleasure at an affordable price.”
What’s more, against a recent backdrop of steep price increases from many of the Médoc’s classed growth châteaux, Nony remarked: “There will never be any speculation, there will never be any undue lift in prices – we can guarantee to customers that prices will be stable.”
This factor, combined with the reliable supply and improved quality, was welcomed by the panel of UK merchants who had gathered to discuss the merits of the Cru Bourgeois system.
“I’m a huge fan of great wines from the Médoc,” said Hal Wilson, managing director of Cambridge Wine Merchants. “There are people who would love to buy wines that they know particularly well, possibly from the cru classé system, but especially from those famous villages and here you have hundreds of wines from these places. For me as a merchant it’s a no brainer.”
Describing the Cru Bourgeois level as being “in the price quality independents are looking to sell at,” he added that, in contrast to the ever tightening margins on many classed growth châteaux, “I actually make money from them.”
In short, he concluded: “They are wines I want to drink and can afford to drink – and I have lots of customers in the same boat and price bracket.”
Despite the appeal of these wines, there was confirmation across the trade that consumers had little awareness of the Cru Bourgeois classification.
“Being totally blunt, Cru Bourgeois is not particularly relevant to most of our customers,” remarked Laura Jewell MW, wine category development manager for Tesco.
However, she noted that, although the system is not used as a selling point in-store, the retailer does list a large number of these wines and featured a Cru Bourgeois mixed case promotion in the latest issue of its in-house magazine. Tesco also included “a good tranche” of Cru Bourgeois wines as part of its latest en primeur purchase, “which makes it more affordable,” explained Jewell.
Despite praising the classification as “the only system that has been working positively and consistently over the last five years and that has raised quality,” Nony said: “there is no possibility that the Cru Bourgeois system will be expanded into any other regions.”
While confirming a willingness “to share information on our system” with Bordeaux’s generic body the CIVB, he warned of the quality risks involved in over-extending the judging process. “28m bottles is already quite a challenge; to go up to 120m bottles would mean defeat,” Nony remarked.
Meanwhile Frédérique Dutheillet de Lamothe, director of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, highlighted the system’s commercial success for members at a time when many of Bordeaux’s less prestigious producers are struggling to remain profitable.
“Prices are getting higher and higher,” she told the drinks business, “but the increase is very soft and regular – it’s not due to the quality of the vintage; the market is recognising Cru Bourgeois as a quality product and is ready to pay a bit more.”
Having launched its promotional programme in France and the US back in 2010 with the 2008 vintage, the association extended its activity to China two years ago. “This market was becoming aware of the existence of Cru Bourgeois,” explained Dutheillet. “They went first to the crus classés but we are produced in the same appellations so it made sense to go to them.”
In January 2013, the association embarked on some small scale activity in the US market, where 130 Cru Bourgeois producers are already listed. Nevertheless, remarked Dutheillet, “we need to make some education so we’ll be back in November and if it’s going well then maybe next year we will do a tasting.”
She also picked out Germany as the next priority, saying: “We urgently need to go there because it used to be a very important market for Cru Bourgeois and now the average price in Germany is becoming higher and higher.”
To view the full list of producers in the 2011 Cru Bourgeois classification, click here.