The Organised Wine Family
With all the speculation about whether the 2011 wines are good value, we’ve been having a think about what it would take to just nail down the prices of wines. So many factors come into play when it comes to pricing a wine – what was the vintage like? How does it compare to the previous vintages? What’s the marketplace like? Who will buy it? When will it be ready to drink? It seems like we spend more time talking about prices than we do drinking the stuff. Of course the producers, negociants and merchants have to make money – isn’t there some way they could help one another out?
I wondered if we could learn a lesson or two from history, and so I started thinking about oil cartels in the 1980s – where competing firms would come to an agreement on price fixing, establishment of territory and allocation of customers in order to reduce competition and consequently improve each member’s profits. Could Bordeaux’s producers, negociants and merchants do the same? Or could they take it a step further, giving the whole industry a more sinister edge… and that’s when I started thinking about prohibition and bootlegging and Al Capone – you know what, the history of the booze trade is absolutely riddled with organised crime, and the very nature of the product lends itself to activities of a criminal nature. If the most influential players in the industry were that way inclined, could they actually create some sort of Organised Wine Family, and use it to control Bordeaux pricing?
I decided to base my idea for an organised wine family on episodes of The Sopranos, Scorcese Flicks & The Godfathers (yes all three of them, and if you didn’t like the third edition to the movie, then you missed the point entirely). And also “Dallas” because JR Ewing seemed like the sort of slightly corrupt oil baron that would be pretty influential. The Organised Wine Family would need some sort of figurehead, someone who would just give the nod and all of Bordeaux would snap into action for fear of waking up with a plague of Phylloxera in their beds. We would like to imagine that Baron Philippe de Rothschild would have been that figurehead until he passed away in 1988 – after all he was already a Baron, which is pretty cool, and his flagship wine Chateau Mouton Rothschild remains the only wine in Bordeaux to be promoted to first growth status. Coincidence? I think not.
But who has taken the reins from Baron Philippe? It seems too obvious to suggest Parker, the most influential critic in Bordeaux and the one who all producers want to impress… but I think if there actually were such a ‘family’ in place, Parker is the last person who would be involved. The real players would be looking to fix prices for their own benefit, so whether the wines are better than the year before or not, all concerned are earning a pretty penny regardless of what Parker has to say. I’m not convinced that Parker is the Tony Soprano character that we are looking for. So who would it be?
I think it would be someone we don’t suspect at all – someone who says they hate giving scores to wines, but reluctantly provides them on their highly influential website. Whose highly secretive ‘purple pages’ section of their website is for subscribers only – subscribers, or ‘paisans’? Someone who writes a column for the most high brow of newspapers, where the most affluent consumers can be targeted on a subliminal level. Someone who provides advice for our very own Queen’s wine cellar (you have no idea how high up this thing goes), gaining an OBE and MW along the way. Someone whose ‘war of words’ with Parker has become a cordial cold war – someone who knows that Parker could be removed from the equation with one clink of their fine Riedel Crystal glasses. Someone who merchants and negociants regard with what appears to be reverence (but it’s actually terror). Oh yes. It’s none other than our very own Jancis Robinson. Just look at the evidence – Riesling didn’t just re-invent itself. Where do you think the term ‘Parkerization’ really came from? Perhaps Parker is not the influential wine critic that he appears to be, but rather the poster boy that takes the heat off the Organised Wine Family’s insiders, so they can carry on with their illicit activities.
As always, 12×75.com has got somewhat carried away by this idea – but it’s a fun thought – what would it take to fix the price of wines, a Chateau Owner, a negociant, an international wine merchant, and a wine critic…..?? I can’t help wondering if there will be a merchant or two reading this thinking ‘actually, that’s not a bad idea’. Or an MW at the top of her profession thinking ‘Damnit, we’ve been rumbled’….