What’s Wrong with Bordeaux?

Bordeaux producers realize they have an image problem. Several years ago, in an effort to project themselves as hip and cool, they hired Paris Hilton to be the “face of Bordeaux”—an ill-advised move, to be sure, and one which never gained any momentum (before she could assume her official duties, she was jailed for some reason, which forced the Bordelais to reconsider).

Recently, they announced the launch of an iPhone App this fall. “People say Bordeaux is hard to understand and old-fashioned,” explained Christophe Chateau of the CIVB, the chief cheerleading organization for the region’s growers. In a separate move, the sweet wine producers revealed they were starting a campaign in the U.S. to bolster sales (exports of sweet wine represented just 1% of Bordeaux sold here in 2009). They will promote Sweet Hours in trendy bars, sell Sauternes in miniature bottles, and try to win endorsements from hip-hop singers.

So what’s the problem? For one thing, most growers of basic Bordeaux are starving. Demand has slowed so dramatically for wines under $20 that they can’t charge as much as it costs them to make the product. At the same time, prices for the top wines have escalated out of sight. When I first started collecting, I was able to buy bottles of Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux for $60; those same wines are now $600-800 per bottle. $60 doesn’t even buy you a bottle of Classified Bordeaux from a good vintage anymore.

Are iPhone Apps and endorsements from hip-hop idols the answer? Maybe, maybe not. How about taking these steps as starters:

1. Label your wine so the average American can understand what it is—with the name of the grape variety. That’s how people in this country select and purchase wine. They could care less about your chateau and your great-great-grandfather.

2. Stop the incessant price-gouging in an effort to take advantage of the moment’s hot market. Right now it’s Hong Kong; previously it has been Japan and the former Soviet Union. Rather than price the top wines at a level where they can only be purchased by individuals with gargantuan amounts of new wealth, try selling them to the folks who bought them 20 or 30 years ago—wine enthusiasts with moderate amounts of disposable income.

3. Want to cultivate the generation under 40, who will be your primary market in the future? Forget about Robert Parker, and focus on the social media where this generation lives. The iPhone App is only the beginning.



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