Anyone who is anyone in the UK wine trade will have had January 8-12 etched into their new 2018 diaries as all attention turns to Bourgogne Week and analysing, debating, tasting, swirling and spitting the best of what this region can offer. It will also be the first time many buyers will get the chance to taste the fruits of the 2016 vintage and what was one of the worst weather hit harvests to hit this iconic region. To help set the scene we turn to Jean Soubeyrand of the Bourgogne Wine Board.
Other than Bordeaux is there a more talked about and analysed wine region than what takes place across the Bourgogne? As we all embark on this week’s Bourgogne Week, Jean Soubeyrand, president of the communications committee of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB), takes us through this year’s campaign, and what he hopes the UK wine trade will take away from what was a troubled, yet high quality 2016 vintage.
What is the strategy for 2018 in supporting the tastings which take place during Bourgogne Week, and what do you hope to achieve?
We hope to increase visibility, reaching as broad an audience as possible to promote continued growth for Bourgogne wines on the UK market; showcase the lesser-known appellations – the hidden gems – thereby opening up a whole new range of market opportunities.
The UK market is a very mature one, and calls for new experiences – or wines at more moderate prices. As there is an overall shortage from the 2016 harvest following low yields it is the ideal time to focus on these lesser-known appellations, ensuring an offering rich and varied enough to satisfy Bourgogne enthusiasts.
How can the UK wine trade get involved?
Broadly speaking, the UK wine trade is actually the driving force behind ‘Bourgogne Week’, and all tasting events have been organised by the importers and distributors themselves. The Bourgogne Wine Board is a sounding board for the event; we have set up a dedicated website, organised a publicity campaign aimed at our trade media partners, and created a Bourgogne Week social media campaign.
How will the social media aspect of the campaign work and how can the trade get involved?
You can follow the activity through the hashtag #BourgogneWeek and on the Twitter account @BourgogneWines where you’ll find latest information on Bourgogne . You can also register for the Bourgogne Week London 2018 event on Facebook and visit the Bourgogne Week website, www.bourgogne-week.com.
You can also follow the exploits of our chief investigator ‘Bourgogne Holmes’, whose task is to discover Bourgogne’s hidden gems and post his discoveries on social media. He will be revealing his findings on Twitter and Facebook every day, using the hashtag #BourgogneWeek.
We are also encouraging the trade to use the #BourgogneWeek hashtag to showcase their favourite Bourgogne products.
As we move in to 2018 how do you look back on 2017?
In terms of sales and markets, 2017 was one of our more challenging years, but Burgundians have been very resourceful in their response. Despite 2016’s low harvest yields, markets have stood firm. Low volumes have been addressed by adjusting allocations in a way that meets customer needs, with no appreciable rise in price. Luckily 2017’s harvest has been excellent both in quantity and quality, and the future is beginning to look bright again.
If we look at the UK market specifically then 2017 was a good year overall, in spite of a slight fall in volume. This was largely due to low availability in Chablis.
Total UK sales for the 10 months between January and October, 2017 (compared with 2016) showed total Bourgogne AOCs ( including the four Chablis AOCs) were down by 6.2 % in volume and up 11.4 % in value. But if you exclude the four Chablis AOCs then total Bourgogne sales were up 7.1 % in volume and 22 % by value.
2017 was also a good year in Bourgogne, marking a return to normal harvest volumes despite localised frosts affecting several Chablis producers. Quality is excellent across the board.
There has been a lot of publicity about the bad 2017 harvest. Can you reflect on that and explain what the latest situation is in terms of volumes and availability?
Fortunately for us, Bourgogne was spared 2017’s severe frosts; other French wine regions haven’t been so lucky. Apart from Chablis, where certain areas were affected, though less so than last year, and parts of the Mâconnais, Bourgogne escaped largely unscathed.
Harvest conditions were excellent, and grapes were beautifully ripe with no trace of disease. We have some very promising wines maturing as we speak, and 2017 has lifted everybody’s spirits.
Are producers having to go in to their reserves to keep up with demand?
The frosts occurred on April 28th 2016, and their impact was quickly recognised. Our producers predicted reduced yields as early as May-June 2016, and realised they had several options to mitigate its effects. This included: reapportioning client allocations; looking at how they could use the bigger yields from the 2014 and 2015 vintages; and a gradual, carefully-thought out distribution of 2016s, which is about to start.
The overall aim is to continue meeting demand in spite of reduced volumes.
What do you say to UK wine buyers anxious about not being able to source enough wines?
I would recommend to look at the lesser-known Bourgogne appellations, which are now better than ever. For example; Irancy, Chorey-les-Beaune, Givry, Viré-Clessé. They make a fine alternative to the more limited – or more expensive – wines.
There may be a little less to go around, but the aim for all Bourgogne producers is to meet the needs of their customers – particularly long-established ones like the UK.
What is the best way for them to keep on top of what is available and from where?
Bourgogne Week is the perfect opportunity to taste the 2016s – our own little miracle. There isn’t a lot of wine, but the quality is fantastic. It’s definitely worth taking a chance, so come along to one of the many tasting sessions, meet our winemakers and négociants, and make up your own mind!
What other developments can we look forward to in 2018?
In the autumn there will be the chance to meet two new members of the Bourgogne wines family: the new Village Vézelay appellation, which is the successor to Bourgogne Vézelay, whose first vintage will be 2017; and the newly-created Régionale Bourgogne Côte d’Or appellation, which is also releasing its first vintage from 2017.
After Bourgogne Week, there is the chance to visit the Saint-Vincent tournante (Wine Festival) in Prissé on January 27 and 28 to celebrate the wines of AOC Saint-Véran. One of the hidden gems we recommend looking at.
There is also the chance to take part in the Bourgogne Wines Club dedicated to sommeliers and independent wine merchants whose members meet three or four times a year in London.