For the UK wine trade, January marks not only the start of a new year, but when all our attention turns to Bourgogne Week and the chance for buyers, merchants, sommeliers and retailers to discover and taste the latest vintage available on the market. After a disappointing 2016 harvest in volume, the double good news for all buyers is that production levels for 2017 were much better and, just as importantly, quality levels are good, says the Bourgogne Wine Board’s (BIVB) François Labet.
Sales of Bourgogne wines are set to get a boost in 2019 as the release of the highly promising and good quality 2017 vintage is good news for producers and importers alike ahead of next week’s Bourgogne Week 2019.
Whisper it gently but Bourgogne is back. After a disappointing 2016 harvest when much lower production levels meant the UK trade was left without its usual allocation of wines, the good news is that, for the most part, the 2017 vintage is back on track. Yes, there were still problems for some areas, particularly in Chablis, but in the main this vital region was able to enjoy a much better harvest and can skip into the new year with a bigger bounce than last year.
Particularly as the quality of the new vintage is also expected to be good. Which will be music to the ears of wine buyers that will spend much of this month moving from one Bourgogne tasting to the other as all the major importers and merchants show the wines in their respective portfolios.
Next week the focus falls firmly on Bourgogne and the launch of Bourgogne Week 2019 and the chance for the trade to join in with a series of key tastings and events, all backed up and supported by a promotional campaign from the BIVB.
Here François Labet, president of the BIVB, explains why Bourgogne Week is so important to the region, but also looks to highlight the steps being taken to promote all areas of the region to prospective trade buyers and the steps being taken to improve sustainability in the region.
Moving into 2019, how do you look back on 2018 and look forward to 2019? Was 2018 a year to reset conditions in the region after the very difficult 2016 vintage and its consequences?
In 2018 we started to market our 2017 wines, which are beautifully made and, for many appellations, in greater supply than the 2016s. Nevertheless, sales figures reflect a shortfall in availability for certain appellations. Chablis is a case in point, as well as a few others in the Mâconnais which didn’t reach their usual production levels in 2017.
2018 is a very good year, though, bringing higher yields than we’ve had for a long time and heralding a surge in production which we hope will continue into 2020.
Where are the main export markets now for Bourgogne?
The US is the number one market, both in terms of volumes and value. This has been the case since 2014. The UK is the second biggest market. In 2017 the value of our exports to the UK was €146m, up 12% on 2016, but volumes were down 5.7% to 15 million bottles.
Then in terms of value Japan is our third biggest market, followed by Canada and Belgium. These markets have been stable since 2014.
What are the main developments that have been taken place in the vineyards in recent time?
In 2017, the Bourgogne wine industry signed up to a new regional charter entitled ‘Terroir & Territories: A commitment for the future’ (Engager nos terroirs dans nos territoires). This was to reflect our readiness as an industry to develop and share best practice in our vineyards and wineries.
That’s not to say we are starting from scratch here in Bourgogne. Sustainable methods are already widespread, and 10% of our vineyards are either certified organic or being converted over to organic production. A number of producer are also biodynamic. But we’re well aware that there’s still a long way to go.
We spent 2018 getting everyone in the industry on board, and conducting a series of trials. For example, we introduced different new viticultural protocols to avoid the use of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances and organised meetings with other stakeholders to make sure they are aware of the progress we’re making as an industry. We want to work with the producers so that we are all going in the same direction.
We’ve also produced a small booklet aimed at residents, visitors and winegrowers calling for a constructive dialogue – 21,000 copies have already been distributed, both in French and English.
In 2019 we intend to continue with our trials and share the most efficient experiences. The idea is to work through imitation – those out in front can effectively pull the others along.
What is the main focus for Bourgogne Week 2019?
There are two main areas of focus:
- We want to use it to promote our excellent 2017 vintage, which is more generous in volume than 2016 and offers some particularly attractive wines. Our whites show a very elegant expression of Chardonnay, beautifully balanced and highly aromatic. The reds have lots of intense colour and show great potential. They are also very precisely balanced on the palate with silky tannins. The overall feel is harmonious – subtle without being ostentatious.
- We would also like to see Bourgogne Week broaden the UK market’s perception of Bourgogne wines across the board. At the moment, a lot of interest focuses on our Grands Crus and the Village and Village Premier Cru appellations, our most famous names. But there’s an immense choice of mid-range Bourgogne wines available, whose quality has never before been as high as it is today. Our Régionale appellations account for 48% of total Bourgogne wine production, while Grands Crus account for only 2%.
Some of our Régionale appellations are authorised to add a geographic denomination to their label; these include Mâcon-Lugny, Mâcon Pierreclos, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre and Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits. These account for 16% of our overall wine production, and could open new doors for Bourgogne wine sales. They offer quantity, good value for money and deliciously appealing wines.
How can the UK wine trade get involved?
The Régionale appellations with geographic denomination could be an excellent opportunity for the UK wine trade – a new category which can be promoted to a wider audience including consumers who have never considered buying Bourgogne wines before.
Any specific events/ social media they can follow?
The Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) is supporting the various events organised throughout the week via a dedicated promotional campaign. We have developed an online guide to help the trade attend some of the many Bourgogne tastings and events. You can visit our dedicated website: www.bourgogne-week.com for more information.
Wine blogger and market influencer Matt Walls will be the BIVB’s special envoy throughout the event. Because the 2017 vintage is such good quality, Matt will be exploring some of the lesser-known appellations and will share his most remarkable discoveries. You can follow him from tasting to tasting on the bourgogne-week.com websiteor on Twitter and Instagram via the #BourgogneWeek and #SpreadtheWord hashtags.
In 2019, Bourgogne Week will last even longer on social media!
Throughout February, Matt Walls will be hosting a tweet-up on the wines that catch his eye at Bourgogne Week, along with other market influencers. This will provide an opportunity for him to explain his choices and find out what other experts are saying. Join him to take part in the online fun, with the hashtag #SpreadtheWord.
Any last words on the production levels for the 2018 harvest? What should we expect?
It’s estimated at 1.8 million hectolitres. Finally, a full harvest after several years of lower crops. And the cherry on the top of the cake: a wonderful quality as well, an ideal vintage!