Two years ago Olivier Cuvelier, President of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, told The Buyer of his plans to change key areas of the classification system – making the award stand for five years rather than one, and for three historical hierarchical levels: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel to be introduced. The changes were part of a campaign to simplify and clarify the Bordeaux classification to consumers and trade alike. But, just as these measures were being implemented in 2020, the roll-out was scuppered by Covid. Peter Dean hears from Cuvelier about how the global pandemic affected the Alliance’s work on the 2018 vintage programme and what is in the pipeline for 2021.
“We have to stay positive so, yes, there might be a “good” point with this economic downturn since people may not be able to afford expensive wines but consumption in general may be reduced to focus on more vital goods,” says Cuvelier.
How has Covid-19 affected the selection process for wines chosen for Cru Bourgeois du Médoc 2018?
Covid-19 didn’t really affect the selection process since it was done during 2019 and the Classification was published just before the first lockdown in France. However, it has affected the promotion of the Classification.
How many properties were selected for this year?
249 properties are part of the 2020 Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Classification. These 249 Châteaux will be classified for five years instead of being selected each year as previously.
How would you describe the styles of wines in this year’s selection compared to previous years?
The first vintage classified within the five years classification, the 2018, will be a great vintage. It is already warm and attractive. You can easily taste it.
How else has Covid-19 affected Cru Bourgeois du Médoc this year?
For the properties, it was difficult to not be able to sell their wines during fairs and to meet up with their clients in France (especially during the first lockdown) and in other countries.
Like for many companies, châteaux were forced to digitalize their promotion and sales and to re-focus on the local market when it was possible. Wine tourism also suffered in May and June with the lockdown in France. The summer was not too affected because of the lift of the lockdown in France. The 2020 harvest as well as all the work in the vineyard had to be re-thought in order to respect sanitary measures which affected the châteaux’ cash flow.
Regarding the promotion, as stated before, Covid-19 has put a stop to the promotion of the Classification worldwide since most of the events planned by the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc federation are tastings around the world. Being restricted to travel and to gather people was a real problem.
What did you learn from how the 2019 En Primeur campaign was run?
The campaign has been different this year as all the promotion events couldn’t be set up. New ways to show the 2019 were created: sampling campaign directly sent to the merchants and journalists, videos/webinars hosted by the winery representatives to present the vintage. This year the campaign was later than usual considering the circumstances.
The 2019 vintage is very good quality and also in good quantity, with prices reduced by up to 30% How does this affect the strategy of releasing Cru Bourgeois 2018?
There is no real impact, even though prices have fallen down since 2019. The 2019 vintage is a great vintage, but the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc are not speculation wines. The campaign is not therefore affected.
As we enter an economic downturn, is this ‘good’ news for Cru Bourgeois – in being at a lower price point?
We have to stay positive so, yes, there might be a “good” point with this economic downturn since people may not be able to afford expensive wines but consumption in general may be reduced to focus on more vital goods. Lots of people have suffered from a loss in their wages during lockdown with the reduced activity of their firms. Some firms also had to close definitely so it will be a tough time for everyone.
Local consumption is a trend that tends to be more than ever on the rise and it may be positive for châteaux so they can refocus on the local market. But almost 60% of the wine we produce is sold overseas so it will take time to compensate the loss on these foreign markets.
This is the first time you haven’t been able to have a London tasting of the new vintage. What are you doing in its place?
We are sending samples of the 2018 vintage to the press in order to allow them to taste the new vintage as each year. We will be having some virtual tastings for the trade in order to maintain the link. We also hope that travel and meeting restrictions will be lifted in 2021 in order to organize a tasting if that’s possible.
Apart from the release of the 2018 vintage, what else are key points on the Crus Bourgeois agenda?
We will focus on training for the trade in different countries. Trade members must be aware of this new classification, what commitment the Crus Bourgeois’ properties made in order to be part of it. Giving them key points on the Classification and which points they should use to sell our wines to consumers.
We also plan to focus a bit more on consumers on the local market with a huge event that will be held in Paris as soon as the pandemic will be over and it will be safe to organize events again. Social media will also be a big part of the promotion towards consumers to let them know about the Cru Bourgeois’ way of life and commitment to quality and environment.
What are the hopes for the 2020 vintage in terms of quality and size.
The 2020 should offer a varied quantity, and we go back to 2018 in terms of quality. Tannins are really asserted, well coated. Many say that it’s an exceptional trilogy : 2018, 2019, and 2020.
What does 2021 hold do you think?
We hope it will be a ‘revival’ year, with more promotional activities for the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc.