The Great Bordeaux Bubble

Yesterday, posted the story, “Xu Lei confirmed as Mouton 2008 artist.” (Full article here) For those of you that don’t know, the “Mouton” referred to here is Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of the five First Growth Bordeaux. It goes for about $1,000 per bottle upon its first  release. Each year, the winery changes the upper portion of their label to incorporate a newly commissioned piece of art. These artists come with big names: Picaso, Warhol, Dali, you get the idea. This year, as you’ve figured out by now, they’re gone with a Chinese artist.

I should qualify, I know nothing about art. Nothing. I think some looks nice, some doesn’t. I certainly don’t know a thing about Chinese art or artists. So now you’ll believe me and know that I have no bias one way or the other when I say that I like Xu Lei’s label. I like the blue color. And the ram is pretty spiffy too. Looks good to me.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2008 label

What makes me scratch my chin is the intentions of Mouton. It’s well known by now that the Chinese wine market is exploding. See another leading story on right now to confirm. (And no, I don’t just read Decanter. I just happen to be on their site right now to grab both stories. I’m lazy.) With China exploding, this seems like a far too obvious, barely-obscured-by-classy-art marketing ploy. The article goes on to say that prices went up 20% following the release of the new label. 20%!

As a marketer, I can appreciate their move here. It’s very smart. 20% smart, it seems. I’m jealous even, that a company can do something so easy to increase awareness and to pump up their revenues. But, at the same time, it makes me wonder where Chateau Mouton’s head is. I have no doubt they’re still making some of the world’s best wine. Competition is fierce and they have to keep pace. But to my knowledge, they’ve never gone with a Chinese artist previously. For now, I choose to be positive and view this as Mouton welcoming the Chinese to the world of fine wine.

It also makes me wonder about this enormous bubble that’s developed for Bordeaux wine.$1,000 – 2,000+ per bottle for a new release, even for the very rich, is a price that can’t be sustained forever. The Great Recession hit most wineries very hard, causing a glut in the market and better prices for everyone. Bordeaux en primeur wines have yet to hit the ceiling on their meteoric rise. I just can’t see this going on for many more years to come. Look for stories in two or three years about this bubble finally bursting. Personally, I’m hoping for a huge drop in prices so I can have my first taste of a First Growth.


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