Does The Story Behind a Bordeaux Wine Affect its Price?

A fascinating study by Pierre Mora and Florine Livat published in the Journal of Wine Economics and Policy has tackled the question ‘Does Storytelling Add Value to Fine Bordeaux Wines?’

If you are an avid Bordeaux wine fan I highly recommend that you read the study as it’s both insightful and thought provoking. Their research was restricted to the hundred or so chateaux that are all members of the Union des Grands Crus association and the 2009 vintage. It did find a correlation between storytelling and price:

‘the research also shows a link between the price level of the wine and the style of the corporate storytelling’.

The texts provided by chateaux were grouped into 13 kinds of topics: Family, History, Appellation, Grape Assemblage, Winemaking Techniques, Financial Partners, Geography and Geology, Description of Wines, Wine Ageing, Art and Culture, Organic Certification, Customers, and Technical Investments.

What interested me was the table of results (Table 1) which showed the average intensity of 6 topics (Family, Geography, Grape Varieties, Wine Growing, Description of the Wines and Consumers) according to the appellation of the chateaux.

It appears that chateaux in Graves and Pauillac ‘talk’ more about Family than other appellations, Sauternes and Barsac ‘talk’ more about Geography and Pomerol ‘talks’ more about Grape Varieties, Vine Growing and Descriptions of the Wines. This makes sense to me as Pauillac is home to 3 First Growths and 15 other Grand Cru Classé which tend to emphasize their lineage and family history.

Sauternes and Barsac often point out their climate and geography that produce the mist which encourages Noble Rot and Pomerol regularly mention the high proportion of Merlot grown there and their techniques in blending the wines.

The study shows that certain appellations have ‘themes’ and explains that their findings show 4 main communication styles:

“The Sauternes appellation refers to the product with a description of the wines, to the grape varietals, to the appellation, and to geography. This communication is based on terroir.

Most of the Médoc appellations (Saint-Julien, Margaux, Pauillac, Haut-Médoc) as well as Graves tell their history, the story of their family, but also refer to investments and certifications. This communication is based on tradition, sometimes combined with modernity.

Pessac-Léognan and Listrac appellations provide technical elements with references to the winemaking process and to wine ageing.

Moulis and Saint-Estèphe appellations focus on their customers and on art and culture, but generally speaking these topics are not frequently found in the communications.”

The study goes on to look at the effect these topics have on price, for instance (Table 2) the topic of Geography is seen to have a negative effect but the topic of Winemaking has a positive one. This is because the technical information (Winemaking) seems to be valued by customers when its presented in the context of a story (well, it would be a bit dry if it wasn’t, wouldn’t it?).

They go on to explain that the link between the topic of Winemaking and some higher prices may be interpreted by the fact that this type of storytelling is aimed at a more educated consumer (presumably wine connoisseurs / investors etc): “this group of consumers is more demanding of the actual content of the text and otherwise is willing to pay more”.

Furthermore the study breaks down the ‘art of storytelling’, identifying 3 types of storytelling:

1. A first type of storytelling (History, Geography, and Geology) that is particularly welcome as a first approach to the public

2. A second type of storytelling (Family and Wine Descriptors) that is reserved for consumers “looking for a dream and for identification, as illustrated by Chinese visitors who visit Bordeaux vineyards, for example”

3. A third type of storytelling (Winemaking) that is reserved for experts, opinion leaders, and wine journalists who are interested in the technical aspects etc.

The authors of the study are interested in studying less expensive Bordeaux wines (such as the Cru Bourgeois) and less elitist Bordeaux appellations (such as the Côtes de Bordeaux) “in order to confirm, on a much larger population, the differentiating power of communication while erasing the influence of prestigious appellations and the classifications applied in 1855. “

If they do they’ll find that less prestigious chateaux don’t have the money to spend on marketing and advertising and that their budgets don’t stretch to publications or websites. Trying to find a ‘story’ on some chateaux in these categories can be like looking for a needle in a haystack! If they do have websites they are often not able to keep them regularly updated as they are too stretched making wines or tending the vineyard.

Sometimes the websites are very sparse on information, although this has started to change over the past couple of years as chateaux owners have realised the importance of ‘getting the word out’. It will be very interesting to see what their findings are and if they can be used to help the chateaux owners improve their storytelling.

As you can tell this is a topic close to my heart – I have always believed that the story behind the wine is part of its enjoyment. Whether a wine’s story adds any financial value to the wine depends on many things, one of which seems to pivot on how many people take up the story and spread the word . . .

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