Bourgogne Week kicks off today with events and tastings throughout the UK, but Burgundy producers are set to face a challenging 2019 as a result of increasingly high prices, competing New and Old World regions and the uncertainties of Brexit.
Despite a much-needed fruitful vintage in 2017, Burgundy prices are unlikely to go down, with winegrowers suffering the dramatic consequences of seven challenging harvests between 2010 and 2016.
Aurel Istrate, sommelier at The Connaught, told Imbibe: ‘There is a bit of a struggle in listing quality-priced Burgundy. In general, the prices of white Cote-de-Beaune premiers crus have increased the most, which makes them difficult to sell.’
François Labet, president of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), dismissed any criticism over pricing and lack of competitiveness, and appeared confident about the success of Burgundy wine in 2019.
‘Our export figures are very positive in the UK – our second export market by both volume and value – and everywhere around the world,’ Labet explained.
‘We are still the region of reference when it comes to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I’m confident that Burgundy producers know that they have to be reasonable with prices.’
In 2017, Burgundy wine exports to the UK were valued at £131m, up 12% on the previous year, while volume was down 5.7% at 15 million bottles.
On one hand, these figures support Labet’s confidence; on the other, however, they confirm the average price increase.
To overcome high prices, UK sommeliers and buyers have recently been finding value in regional-appellation Burgundy (eg Bourgogne or Macon, which accounts for 48% of total production in Burgundy). As a consequence, regional AOCs went up 3.3% by volume in 2017 from the previous year.
‘[When it comes to price,] I’m happy to suggest different appellations to address the needs of my customers,’ said Andrea Mattia of Edinburgh’s Divino Enoteca.
Meanwhile, Istrate is also listing alternative Burgundy labels with approachable price tags. ‘Most of the time people are very open in trying what we offer as an alternative, as long as we meet their expectations of both quality and price,’ he said.
‘There are, of course, people who don't want to got out of their comfort zone and play [it] safe, even though sometimes they end up paying more than what we recommend.’
The uncertainties of Brexit don’t help to mitigate buyers' fears over rising prices, either. Labet admitted that a bad deal over the borders could severely affect sales in the UK. ‘Nobody knows what’s going to happen [after Brexit],’ he commented.
‘It might be a bit difficult if the borders are closed, but I don’t think this will make British drinkers stop buying Burgundy. Prices ex-cellar shouldn't go up, but if tariffs are increased in the UK, then our wines will be less competitive than they are at the moment.’
Many Burgundy wines will be available to taste at the various trade tastings happening in the UK this week, some of which will be en primeur. The BIVB has developed an online guide to help professionals organise their attendance to the tastings, with information on venues and producers featured.