Dry whites will save sweet Sauternes
The pursuit of making high quality dry white wines in Sauternes will help the survival of the region’s under-appreciated sweet wines thinks AXA Millèsimes’ managing director, Christian Seely.
Speaking to the drinks business yesterday (27 April), Seely, who manages Château Suduiraut as part of AXA’s portfolio of properties, said he was not “in despair” at the current state of Sauternes’ seemingly chronic position in the market but he was also well aware of the “difficulties we face”.
He continued: “They’re great and beautiful wines and that’s a reason not to despair. People love them [when they taste them] and that’s the basis for hope.
The problem is people don’t drink as much at home as we’d like.”
Sauternes producers have been in an unenviable position for years now, the popularity of the region’s reds and general unpopularity of sweet wines meaning that these labour-intensive and expensive to produce wines are neither being sold nor drunk in anything like the quantities they deserve.
The situation is especially cruel as, bar the 2012 vintage, the region has enjoyed at least a decade of good to truly outstanding vintages while simultaneously cutting or holding prices en primeur as collectors are often unwilling to put the money they’re saving for reds on sweet wines they don’t see the need for or want. None of the Sauternes that have released their wines en primeur so far this year have raised their prices at all.
For Seely the answer, or a potential answer, is twofold: double down on continuing to make the very finest sweet wines one possibly can but also introduce high quality dry whites for which their exists a much stronger market.
As at Pauillac second growth Pichon Baron, Seely has overseen a gradual reduction in the production of the grand vin at Suduiraut from a former high of nearly 10,000 cases a year to 1,500-5,000 cases now – depending on the vintage.
On the other hand, the estate has been developing “very strongly” its dry whites.
In 2003 the château launched its first dry white, ‘S de Suduiraut’, a limited production of around 400 cases a year and last year it added another ‘entry level’ dry white, ‘Le Blanc Sec de Suduiraut’.
Retailing at around £13 a bottle, Seely explained that from an initial run of 24,000 bottles, the aim was to increase production of Le Blanc Sec to 100,000 bottles over the next few years.
What’s more he thought the focus on dry whites was starting to gain traction, a recent tasting of S de Suduiraut “against the great Pessac whites,” earlier this year led to “some very favourable notes – it shows we can make dry white in Sauternes.”
Furthermore, with regards the market for dry white wines, Seely continued that: “Bordeaux in general has a very strong card to play with Sémillon – especially in Sauternes where there’s a lot of it. There’s plenty of Sauvignon Blanc in the world but not much Sémillon.
He stressed that an increase in dry white production did not spell the end for the sweet wines, in fact it was more likely to help them be a viable wine style.
The best plots, the best grapes and the greatest care and attention were and are still lavished on the sweet wines but creating nothing but sweet wines in a market that is unable to absorb them is an unsustainable and damaging model.
“It’s not giving up the ‘day job’ – which is to make great [sweet] Sauternes,” he said. “If anything it enables us to carry on the day job; the pure pursuit of making one of the great sweet wines of the world.
“To try and make great dry white wines will help the sweets survive.”
READ MORE: Sauternes producers need to adapt to survive