Liquid dreams: The Lafite’s of the future?

With top-end cuvées proving an opportunity for consumers to tap into a luxury lifestyle, winemakers across the globe are creating highly priced wines to satisfy demand.

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WE’RE IN the business of selling dreams; something that lifts you from the everyday and transports you into another realm, if only for a moment,” says Hugues Le Marié of Champagne houses Perrier-Jouët and GH Mumm.

He’s right – Champagne has hung its hat on successfully selling a luxurious lifestyle to its public, who, on popping a cork, can fleetingly glimpse into a world they long to belong to. Lily Dimitriou, corporate communications manager of Santorinibased Tsantali Vineyards, agrees: “Luxury brands combine craftsmanship, attention to detail, pedigree and paucity, allowing the buyer to become the ‘owner’ of an exclusive experience,” she says.

Feeding a want rather than a need, luxury products are linked to the pursuit of pleasure. But wine is a slow moving industry where reputations have to be earned, so how does an ambitious winemaker or estate owner go about creating a luxury wine brand? Given the current economic climate, the question seems more pertinent than ever.

While many consumers continue to feel the pinch, at the top of the money tree, the world’s super-rich still seem willing to pay for what they perceive to be the “best of the best”.

Denis Dubourdieu of 4G Wines

Denis Dubourdieu of 4G Wines

Eyeing up the middle of the market at the moment is a mistake – winemakers should be seeking to target top earners with hand-crafted prestige blends, which, if made using artisan methods in tiny quantities from old vines, then handpicked and aged in high quality oak, could give a serious return on the investment required to produce the wines.

Add to this a strong name and a striking label linked to a powerful story and you’ve got a luxury wine brand on your hands. Interestingly, many of the most lusted after wines to have emerged on the market in recent years didn’t start life with luxury in mind.

“I never planned for Pingus to be a luxury product; the idea was to find a top quality site and take it as far as I possibly could,” explains Danish-born, Ribera del Duero-based Peter Sisseck, founder of Spain’s most expensive wine, Pingus, which sells out en primeur for over £500 a bottle.

The fate of the wine, which is made from two tiny old-vine plots in the village of La Horra, was sealed in 1996 when powerful US wine critic Robert Parker hailed the inaugural 1995 vintage one of the “greatest and most exciting” wines he’d ever tasted, giving it a 96-100 point score.

Sisseck openly acknowledges the importance of that early Parker score on the consequent success of the wine: “It would be foolish and arrogant not to accept the influence Parker has had on making Pingus and other ‘new’ wines known to a large audience,” he says.

‘ALL ABOUT QUALITY’

It’s a similar story for Jacques Thienpont, owner of 2.7-hectare estate Le Pin in Pomerol, the 1982 vintage of which received 100 points from Parker, propelling the wine to global fame. “I didn’t set out to make a ‘luxury’ wine; that was never my goal – I expected to make wine on the level of Vieux Château Certan, but I was told by my uncle that the soil at Le Pin had great potential,” says Belgian-born Thienpont, who believes Le Pin’s unique selling point lies in its exoticism.

“Le Pin is always soft and easy to drink from the beginning, wit good freshness and supple tannins. It has a roasted coffee bean taste, even before the juice begins to ferment,” he observes. Producing just over 5,000 bottles a year, a sign of how seriously Thienpont takes the pursuit of excellence was his decision not to produce a vintage in 2003 as the Merlot was overblown due to the extreme heat in Bordeaux that year.

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