Burgundy's soaring price bottles up trouble for future

Prices for the poshest Burgundies went through the roof at this year's charity wine auction in Beaune, one of the key events in the global wine calendar. The high bidding, mostly on behalf of foreign buyers, angered local producers, who fear it will discourage purchasers of cheaper Burgundies. With the 1997 Beaujolais nouveau arriving on Thursday, John Lichfield, in Beaune, samples the paradoxical state of the French wine industry

Louis Trebuchet bought the most expensive items in the auction: two barrels of Batard-Montrachet at the equivalent of pounds 50 a bottle. Afterwards, he was delighted and disturbed.

Delighted, because his firm, a local specialist trader, made it a "point of honour" to buy the most prized white wine in the annual charity auction of the grands crus from vineyards bequeathed over the centuries to the Hospices de Beaune. Disturbed, because the price he had paid, 152,000 francs (about pounds 15,000) a barrel, was nearly double last year's price, confirming the sky-high trend in this year's sale.

"The wine I just bought is already paid for [by dealers in New York and Dallas]. But from the point of view of cheaper and medium-price Burgundies, the price is very worrying, even dangerous. The trend will put off buyers in the cheaper categories, where Burgundy is already suffering."

Mr Trebuchet said the high auction prices this year (47 per cent up on 1996 overall) reflected the potential quality of the 1997 vintage but also the weakness of the franc and the fact that "there is a lot of money in the world for luxury items at present". In Sunday's sale, barrels were marked down to buyers from 30 countries, including the United States, Japan and Britain (there were two succesful bids by Sainsbury's), but also Russia, Taiwan and Singapore. There were ironic boos for the purchase of one lot of Savigny-les-Beaune (a red Burgundy) by "Coca-Cola Japan".

Christian Flaceliere, a wine writer, was even blunter about the foreign money on offer. "It's sad," he said. "With prices like that, people are going to turn to beer and processed drinks."

For whatever reason, and price is not yet a major issue, wine drinking is already collapsing in France. Consumption has fallen by half in the last 25 years. Two-thirds of French under 30 now reject wine as fattening and old-fashioned. At the same time, the highest quality French wines are still enormously sought after abroad and - to the despair of some purists - production of the medium-range wines has been increased in the last decade.

Although on the surface, the French wine industry is doing well, helping to boost the country's record trade surpluses, there is concern that the growing dependence on foreign sales may prove destructive. The three-day festival in Beaune - "les trois glorieuses de Bourgogne" - was, as ever, a joyous occasion. There were sampling tents for wines and cheese and charcuterie; there were wine-bottle-opening competitions; there were street performers in medieval garb, including one man who rolled drunkenly around town in a gigantic, round-bottomed barrel.

But beneath the surface jollity, there was anxiety. In Bordeaux, the great rival to Burgundy, a controversy rages about the coarsening impact of American tastes, and specially the judgements of the US wine guru Robert Parker. It is alleged that some chateaux have abandoned the "subtlety" of French tradition for a more "vigorous" type of wine which appeals to America (that is, Parker). This was defined by one French critic as something which "strikes the palate like a dollop of wine jam".

Pierre-Henry Gagey, president of the Beaune wine traders, swore to me - with perhaps a supercilious glance towards Bordeaux - that such antics would never be accepted in Burgundy. "A great wine must remain faithful to its terroir [locality]," he said. "The method of manufacture must express the qualities of the terroir, not blot them out."

The other export-induced threat to the character of French wine is the expansion of the areas now allowed to make appellation controle medium- priced wine. In an interview with Le Monde at the weekend, the British wine writer Hugh Johnson, who is enormously respected in France, said the poor quality of some bottles under appellation labels was placing the reputation of French wine in the world "at very great risk". Some wine experts present in Beaune suggested that this was the real cause of the slow sales of cheaper Burgundies.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam