2014 will be a crucial year for the immediate future of fine wine. And so far, so good. I suppose the winter could have colder and wetter, but now spring and summer really are born glorious summer in this son of York, as it were.
But before I drown myself in hyperbole, let me say why this is so crucial. It is crucial because the fine wine trade is in crisis. What was a pleasant, relatively leisurely industry is now a bun fight, with too many players fighting over too little flour.
Over the past sixteen years, just the companies I know have spawned endless others: Farr, at least three, Vins Rares at least three and Fine & Rare god only knows how many. Even Caveau de la Tour has offsprung at least two of which mine is one, Albion Vins Fins. There are myriad more.
And all of these, with their vast accrued knowledge and zillions of contacts are fighting over the same pie. There has been no substantial growth in the world’s finest wine producing areas to match that of trade trying to take a piece. All right, Argentina, Chile and South Africa have come on song, but no one is really fighting for their wines.
Meanwhile pricing has enjoyed and inexorable rise, or “price discovery”, that awful phrase, as James Miles of Liv-ex puts it. Since 2000, the Bordelais have bought their helipads, glamorous new chais and heaven knows what else. Likewise, Italy, Burgundy and no doubt parts of the Rhône.
These were financed by the apparently insatiable demand for fine wine from Asia, particularly China and Singapore and a fatalistically acquiescent intermediary market. As long as it sold, the wine trade could just about swallow it. And then came 2010. And 2011, then 2012 and 2013.
In the first, Bordelais greed was so inflated and their prices so high that whatever the brilliance of the wines, the market balked. 2010 is largely unsold. As is 2011, 2012 and 2013. These last thee a triumvirate of moderate to small vintages (2013 the smallest since 1991) and of mediocre to very average quality. The market also balked.
So not only is their too little recent production, but what there is, is of no interest to anyone.
2014 has to come in good. And, at least in Burgundy, if things hold out, I think it will be a stunner. The sun has been shining brightly and warmly for weeks through flowering and bud-break. It is a little dry but vine roots run deep. Fingers crossed and pray for greatness.
If it turns out to be great, across the board and across all of France and beyond, the next behemoth of a dilemma will raise its ugly head: price.
With so much costly stock laying around in chateaux and warehouses, will producers see sense and keep the prices stable, or even lower them? Will they attempt to re-engage with their clientèle? Or will they seize the opportunity and milk it dry in a frenzy of short term-ism?
I pray for the first, but fear the second. But whatever, 2014 is a crucial year.
Let the sunshine in…