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Chateau d’Yquem Will Not Produce a Vintage for 2012

The Sauternes First Growth Chateau d’Yquem will not be producing a vintage for 2012 due to the difficulties in harvesting grapes of sufficient quality after too much rain. The rainy weather conditions have resulted in the poor development of Noble Rot (botrytis cinerea). Noble Rot is the fungus that usually covers the ripe grapes, concentrating the sugars and adding layers of complexity to the finished wine. If too much rain falls the beneficial spores are washed off which means that no sweet wine can be made from the crop.

Director Pierre Lurton told the AFP that despite their best efforts and the great terroir of the chateau Nature was against them. He added that a brand like Yquem should know when not to make a vintage and that it was reasonable not to do so in order to maintain Chateau d’Yquem’s image as one of the greatest white wines in the world and maintain its place in the history books.

This is not a first for the chateau as d’Yquem has had to make this difficult decision in the past – no vintage was produced in 1952, 1972 and 1992. Lurton remarked that “it’s as if every 20 years there is a curse.” In fact d’Yquem has had poor crops a number of times (1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, and 1992) which contradicts his comment about a curse.

Having discussed the situation with Bernard Arnault of the luxury group LVMH which owns d’Yquem, they decided that it was important to keep d’Yquem’s excellence intact in order to maintain the sustainability of the brand.

With 100,000 bottles produced per year on average, the loss could amount to 25 million euros but Lurton said that he is not concerned about the loss of income and that d’Yquem has other great vintages that will reimburse the short fall over the long term. Indeed d’Yquem decided not to release the ‘outstanding’ 2011 vintage at En Primeur this year as they did not want to release a potentially superb wine in difficult market conditions.

Of course not every chateau in Sauternes or Barsac can afford to dispose of a bad vintage and d’Yquem is in the fortunate position that it can do so. It’s also important to bear in mind that not every chateau in these appellations has had a poor vintage for 2012 either. Vineyard management, harvesting and wine making techniques are all highly individual to each chateau and some will produce a good wine this year – albeit under difficult conditions.

Wine Spectator reports that Lurton’s decision has “aggravated some of his Sauternes and Barsac neighbours who produced a 2012 wine and worry that Yquem’s decision will scare buyers away.” Most chateaux have suffered from extremely low yields but have managed to create good wines – Chateau Coutet has produced half their normal yield. De Fargues has produced less than 300 cases, Doisy Daene is down 30% on yields and Guiraud“will be lucky to produce 1,000 cases rather than its usual 11,000”.

It seems that d’Yquem’s decision not to produce a wine for 2012 may be more about marketing strategy than poor quality. No wine for 2012 will only bolster the value of the precious 2011 and add an air of rarity to what is being heralded as a sublime wine. It may also increase the attractiveness of back vintages of d’Yquem as Sauternes fans as collectors seek them out faced with the dearth of recent vintages . . .

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9 Responses to Chateau d’Yquem Will Not Produce a Vintage for 2012

  1. Steve Webb (@SauternesSteve) says:

    There is some anger in Sauternes over this decision. It’s true that Yquem (and others) have skipped previous vintages but whilst conditions were difficult in 2012 they were not on a par with previous poor vintages and it was perfectly possible to make good Sauternes. It’s a tricky situation as Pierre Lurton is somewhat correct to say that in the long term it is important for Sauternes to have a strong Yquem with a reputation for the very best quality. But when many growers are struggling to make a living it is could be serious for some if the vintage gets an undeserved poor reputation.

    I feel this could have been handled much better. A very small crop could have been released at a very attractive price after the release of the 2011 and the En Primeur tastings. Either that or the much repeated calls for a second wine could have been listened to. These would have been positive stories and Sauternes needs good publicity not negative headlines.

  2. gdfo says:

    Is there a more iconic name in dessert wines than this one? What is owed to the buyers and drinkers of this wine, and what is owed to Lurtons neighbors. A decision like this take courage. How many people are willing to state that the product they make is not up to par with the standard that has been created and lived up to? What would happen if he released wine that the consumers and reviewers knew was not the best representations of the name and reputation of the wine?

    Yes a tough decision but, I think a good one. We all should be so fortunate if other producers did the same and in other areas too.

  3. Steve Webb (@SauternesSteve) says:

    It all depends on whether you treat any particular wine as a brand or not. As a brand it makes perfect sense as quality and reputation are closely linked and you cannot afford a bad vintage. But Yquem, and most other wines, are ‘vintage’ wines and consequently will vary from year to year according to the weather – it is not possible to maintain any form of consistency as a real brand would like, for example, Krug champagne at the luxury end or Blue Nun at the more commercial end.

    Wine drinkers generally understand this and appreciate it – as long as the price fits the quality of the vintage it is an endless source of fascination observing just what particular wine makers have made of conditions in any given year. There’s quite a lot of 1998 Yquem (not a great vintage) being enjoyed by the glass at restaurants currently precisely because the price enables this to happen – it’s a shame the 2012 vintage won’t provide a similar ‘entry point’ in the future.

    But what has particularly frustrated other Sauternais is that 2012 is actually a good vintage – possibly better than 2004 or 2006 from recent vintages and certainly not in the category of previous non declared vintages from Yquem. Only those in Sauternes that belong to the school of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ could be happy with this decision. In makes sense for Yquem as a brand, especially as they are yet to release their iconic 2011 vintage but in all other respects its very unhelpful.

  4. gdfo says:

    Brand or Vintage, It is Lurtons decision and a done thing. It is up to the other producers to maintain and market their brand and vintages on their own.

    What if auto manufactures took this kind of approach or software makers? Take your best to market. Keep your brand at a standard that made you successfull, do not settle for less than you can do or be even with the vagaries of the weather and vintage quality.

    • Steve Webb (@SauternesSteve) says:

      Of course you are right in this day and age but your words fill me with sadness. Personally I care little for software or cars but a glass of good Sauternes can easily bring me to tears. I have a strong bond with the Sauternais and their remarkable efforts in producing the most wonderful wines in the world under what can be the most trying of circumstances. 2012, in my view, should be celebrated as a year in which this spirit has, for the most part, triumphed against the odds – not a year to be consigned to the scrap heap lightly. Just a different perspective!

      • Nick says:

        Interesting discussion – and I can see both points. However, being fairly emotive about wine, I agree with Steve. When you have a close connection to the wine makers you get to see how much blood sweat and tears actually go into producing a vintage. Crafting a good wine in difficult circumstances becomes an art form. Naturally some fall by the wayside but they try their damndest not to – after all its their reputations, businesses and homes at stake here. These wines are not a machine made, produced in bulk by men and women in white coats in lab conditions backed by big bank balances. They are made by folks who are passionate about their wines and who often sink everything they have into producing them.

        I know, I know . . . folks will say ‘business is business’ but don’t forget the wine makers, like farmers, like horticulturalists and gardeners have spent every day tending their crop in all weathers. It’s not like watching a robot make a car or a micro chip. Not at all. Feelings are involved.

        There are plenty of chateaux who have made good wine in 2012 and Yquem’s decision not to make a wine does impact on how the whole vintage will be viewed. Folks will say that 2012 is a ‘bad year’ and this will cast a shadow over the whole appellation. If I was a Sauternais wine maker I would be furious with Yquem for playing politics with the market. Cool headedly I could see that it made good business sense but that wouldn’t help me out of the situation they have created for me and my wine.

        Thankfully Sauternes has a dynamic set of wine makers and promoters who are working hard to bring these lovely wines to more people’s attention. The other grand chateaux will also try to right the balance by actively promoting the 2012 vintage. I can only hope they can undo the damage that Yquem has done.

  5. Steve Webb (@SauternesSteve) says:

    Hats off to Climens, Sigalas Rabaud, Doisy Daene, Doisy-Vedrines and others but sadly Rieussec is not releasing. If this means an end to the absurd linking between Rieussec and Lafite then this could be a blessing in disguise!

    • Nick says:

      Rieussec too? Again, a sensible move on the Rothschild’s part if they want to increase its status. As you say Rieussec has been parcelled off as a’multi buy’ along with Lafite et al for far too long which has devalued the wine. However this is not good news for Sauternes producers at all.