and the "En Primeur" Campaign
In this post, I'm just giving some views, opinions, and facts about the 2022 vintage and previous vintages like 2003, as well as about the "En Primeur" campaign and, more especially, Bordeaux prices, like 2022 and others like 2017 and 2021 compared to previous vintages.
As I'm not a journalist or a wine critic, you won't find any "Bordeaux En Primeur 2022" wine descriptions or scores within this post. They do it so well; I leave that job to them. So, stop reading here if that is what you were looking for. Or continue reading if other facts and aspects of the En Primeur 2022 campaign (and other facts about Bordeaux wines in general) interest you.
Bordeaux 2022 - An intriguing vintage
To say the least, Bordeaux 2022 is quite an intriguing vintage.
The 2003 Heatwave
Being the first vintage struck by such an unprecedented and intense heatwave, 2003 marked the beginning of a new era for Bordeaux (and other wine regions of France and Europe in general). It gave the growers something to reflect on. Vineyard and cellar management and winemaking had to be pondered and thought over, with changes having to be made and gradually implemented to adapt to what was about to become the "new normal".
During the 2003 harvest, some growers aimed to preserve acidity and freshness by harvesting early, but this led to underripe fruit with green, bitter, and astringent tannins. Meanwhile, others waited too long to take advantage of ripeness, resulting in overripe fruit with high alcohol, low pH, and inharmonious wines. Some growers even attempted both approaches, blending the wines to counterbalance, resulting in overripe, scorched fruit mingling with weird acidity and poorly integrated, bitter tannins and alcohol.
As a result, during the "En Primeur" period, the Bordeaux 2003 vintage proved to be one of the most inconsistent and heterogeneous I have ever tasted during my 31-year career in the wine industry as a Sommelier and wine buyer.
Thankfully, since then, and especially after 2009, another hot year, Bordeaux growers have adapted and significantly progressed in handling hot and dry years, allowing them to be prepared and ready for vintages such as 2022.
The Differences between 2003 and 2022
Yet, the 2022 vintage differs from previous scorching years like 2003 (and 2015 or even 2019). Unlike 2003, which was hot and dry all day and night, the heat waves in 2022 were intermittent, with cool nights in between, which made a crucial difference, especially in keeping the wines fresh and vibrant.
Along with the climate, the weather and the rise of the temperatures, many things have also changed and evolved in the 20 years separating these two vintages, including (but not limited to) vineyard and cellar management, the winegrower's goals and visions, as well as trends, practices, techniques, skills, knowledge, and tastes.
In the 2000s, growers still focused on maximising sun exposure, ripeness, and concentration. And even if that particular year of 2003, de-leafing was not necessary due to the hydric stress (*) the vines suffered from, de-leafing was still common, and herbicides, insecticides and fertilisers were still heavily used. Hence, cover crops were rare, and the in-between rows were often yellow or bare.
Sustainable, organic, and biodynamic methods and practices were still at an early stage. Although considerable efforts had been made since the 70s, 80s and 90s, and despite a few leading by example, a majority was still prioritising productivity at the expense of quality.
In 2022, the grower's approach was different, as, over the years, with the experience of the previous severe heat waves of 2003, 2005, 2009, 2015 and 2019, they had changed and adapted their practices, tested, and adopted new ones to be prepared and better protect their vines and grapes from extreme weather conditions, ensuring they thrive even in the hottest and driest vintages.
De-leafing is only done when necessary, maximising the use of canopy to shield the grapes from the sun, and implementing cover crops, which are important for soil health as they prevent erosion, suppress weeds, and provide nutrients, while also promoting biodiversity and support natural pest predators, resulting in healthier soil and plant growth.
Vineyard and cellar management practices and methods differ as they are nowadays more natural, sustainable, and minimalistic in a way, with fewer interventions, more environment friendly, and often related to or tending toward (if not certified) Organic and Biodynamic cultures.
Back to nature
Basically, we did not invent or create anything new. As for everything else, after decades of trials and failures of destroying the soil and sub-soil, land, environment and life with heavy chemicals, especially since World War II, due to capitalism and the result of over-production, over-commercialisation and over-consumption linked to greed and an ever-growing demographic, (and all the consequences that came with it), we're just slowly returning to more natural, cultural and agricultural ways, as it used to be before the existence and heavy use of chemicals (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc...).
The use of animals such as horses, mules, or donkeys to plough the soil (amongst other things), as well as hens and sheep and/or goats to graze in the vineyards, naturally aerating and fertilising the soil, while also helping biodiversity, like it used to be before the 1940s (when tractors slowly replaced horses), is now back in fashion.
But, more importantly, it is worth noting that while growers have adapted and adopted new methods, technics, skills, knowledge, and behaviours to better protect the environment and cope with extreme weather changes (e.g. devastating hailstorms, late frost, floods, hot and dry summer, and capricious growing seasons with lots or no rain), the vines have also adapted over the last two decades and are now more resilient to Bordeaux’s "new normal".
Vines have learned to support and survive these extreme weather changes, including the increasing heat of these last few years. Bordeaux temperatures reached 41.2°C in 2019, surpassing the previous all-time high record of 40.7°C registered in August 2003. (**)
Suffering these successive and recurring heat waves over the years allowed for the roots to reach deeper underground to find moisture and nutrients, enabling the vines to better ripen and thrive with less water, which played an important role in the quality and equilibrium of the 2022 Bordeaux vintage. The vine's newfound ability to adapt over the last 2 decades have already and will continue to prove crucial for coping with future extreme climate conditions.
Bordeaux 2022: another great "En Primeur" Campaign
Bordeaux is also a great place to live and for vacation.
Bordeaux always recovers
No more bad vintages in Bordeaux
- 3 great vintages per decade (usually ending with 0, 5 and 9),
- 2 good vintages (ending with 6 & 8),
- 3 lesser vintages (ending with 2, 3 & 4, with some rare exceptions), and
- 2 bad vintages (usually ending in 1 and 7).
Bordeaux 2022: a rare exception to the Rule
Released prices, speculation and eventual profit
The "En Primeur" Dilemma
- People will be willing to understand and pay for the increase, and subsequent speculation will further increase the price for a little while before stopping, potentially slowing down sales.
- People will not be willing to pay the price as they do understand the sudden increase compared to the previous 5-6 vintages (despite low quantities and high demand), and sales will surely be slow.
- Speculation will stop rapidly as the release price is already quite high. Therefore, instead of steadily inflating with time (generating a potential profit for those who will resell it after a few years of cellaring), the price may stagnate long-term (after reaching a certain ceiling), for example, 400 Euros, and stop there. And at the end of the day, it is completely understandable. Why pay more than 400 euros a bottle when the last 5-6 "good to great" vintages have only an average market price of 350 Euros per bottle?
Bordeaux Prices comparison
- 2018 is much better than 2017. Let's increase the prices by 20-25%
- 2019 is as good or even better than 2018. Ah, yes, but we may have difficulties selling due to COVID. So let's decrease the price by 18-21%
- 2020 is as good but not necessarily better than 2019 or 2018, but we decreased the prices so much for 2019, and because we produced less in 2020 due to smaller quantities, we need to get back on track and compensate. But chateaux owners probably said, let's increase prices by 20-25% to return to 2018 prices or higher.
- 2021 is a lesser vintage than 2020 and 2019, but, yet again, they probably said: let's keep roughly the same prices set for 2020, even if it is not justified, to (again) compensate for the lower prices of 2019 and smaller quantities.
- 2022 is such a great vintage, and quantities are so small we can only increase the prices compared to 2021 and 2020 (which were roughly the same despite 2021 being a lesser vintage than 2020) to compensate once again. Let's increase the prices by 20-25% compared to 2021.
Bordeaux price's ups and downs don't make sense when you look at the numbers for some Chateaux.
- 2019 was priced at 230 Euros, 8.7% below 2018 at 252 Euros (COVID fearfulness)
- 2020 was priced at 260 Euros, 13% above 2019 at 230 Euros and 3.2% above 2018 at 252 Euros (here, the price for 2020 being similar to 2018 and higher than 2019 makes sense)
- 2021 was priced at 265 Euros, 1.9% above 2020 at 260 Euros and 5.2% above 2018 at 252 Euros (which does not make sense in my opinion, as 2021 is a lesser vintage compared to 2018 and 2020, and should have been priced somewhere between 2018 and 2019 prices, around 235 or 240 euros maximum to mark the difference in the quality of the vintage and the resulting wine)
- 2022 was priced at 350 Euros, a whopping 32.1% above 2021 (this massive increase can be explained by the quality of the vintage, which is much better than 2021, by far, and also better than 2018, 2019 and 2020, but the main reason behind it is to mark their position as one of the Top Chateaux of Saint-Emilion and make a point that their wine is worth more than previously priced.
- Some 2016 as it is a really good vintage, even if a bit expensive
- Skip 2017 and 2021, as they are too expensive for lesser vintages anyway and may not necessarily improve with time (Bordeaux vintages ending in 1 and 7 are usually lesser vintages and difficult to sell. Refer to my "Theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages" for more details, read it here and here). Better to leave these two early drinking vintages as backup vintages for retailers, restaurants, bars and "Cave à vin".
- Some and more of 2018 and 2020 as they are well priced compared to the lesser 2017 and 2021, and lower than 2016 for similar quality.
- Lots of 2019 as it is a bargain. A real steal, compared to the other vintages, while its quality is really good.
- A good amount of 2022, more for investment, as quantities are low while demand is high, so speculation is already strong for this vintage and can only increase with time.