Visiting Dourthe   
The Bordeaux negociant and property owner aiming to change the fortunes of affordable wines from Bordeaux

Dourthe's Patrick Jestin

It was an interesting proposal. Tim Atkin and I were invited for a quick trip to Bordeaux with important negociant Dourthe. While we were there, we were to assist (in a small capacity) with the blending of Dourthe's No 1 Sauvignon Blanc, as well as taking a look at Dourthe's various Bordeaux properties, and have some fun playing with components of their top red wine, Essence.

Bordeaux is a region that's in some trouble. At top end – the classed growths of the Méedoc, and the top right bank wines from Pomerol and Saint-Emilion – all is rosy. Demand and prices have never been higher. But aside from this glitzy spotlight, the rest of the region is struggling.

There’s simply too much very ordinary (and even poor) Bordeaux being made, without a route to market. This creates a vicious circle for those at the bottom end: very low prices means they can't make the investments needed to raise quality. Poor quality wines have few buyers and can only compete on price. And so it continues. ‘Bordeaux at the bottom end is only competitive when the price is very low,’ says Dourthe CEO Patrick Jestin. ‘If we believed in the cheapest Bordeaux, we'd have targeted the strategy of our company in that place. Bordeaux is just 1.5% of the world's vineyard area. We have to play the quality game.’

‘We have success with the Grand Cru Classé model as a wine producing region,’ says Jestin. ‘What we don’t have is a successful model in the medium-priced wines. Very often they are the cheapest wines of the famous regions: the third wines, the bad cru Bourgeois. Generally these are a bad proposal for the consumer.’

‘For me it is key to have significant proposals at a level of price where you can find volume. It is important to deliver a confident proposal at £7–12 in the UK with a good wine at a good volume.’

Dourthe have several lines of business. They are an important negociant, buying and selling wines. They own a number of properties. And they also buy in wines and grapes to make brands. Bordeaux needs strong brands: wines that are made in the sort of volumes to fit modern retail channels, but also wines that are of good enough quality that they compete with those from the new world, for example. 

‘We've developed our brands with the mindset of a property owner,’ says winemaker Christophe Ollivier.

Jestin explained the approach of Dourthe. ‘We try to apply the Grand Cru Classe model to lower appellation wines, by identifying good terroirs and helping growers with their viticulture. We use Christophe and Thomas [Drouineau] in the vineyard and vinification process. Our aim is to produce wines at Grand Cru Classe level but with a good quality:price ratio. We are very focused on the quality:price relationship for the consumer, and always try to check this with wines from around the world.’

He adds that, ‘we can't play at the bottom end of the market. It's not wise. We have to go for quality: it's the only solution.’

Jestin points out that the Grand Cru Classes are 10-15% of the region's area, but represent 60% of turnover in terms of export. ‘The main subject for Bordeaux is to be able to produce wines like the Grand Cru concept, reliable in quality, but a bit cheaper.’

He thinks change is definitely coming to the region, in part because of new blood. ‘60% of growers will retire in less than five years, so we will go in a more modern direction.’ He predicts that the next 10 years will see a concentration of the good properties in good hands. ‘Today, a significant volume of Bordeaux is sold below £5 [equating to an ex-cellars price of 1.2-1.3 Euros] – a minimum of half the quantity.’ 

‘The current situation in Bordeaux is untenable,’ emphasizes Christophe Ollivier.


1 Introduction
2 Sauvignon Blanc
3 Château La Garde, and dinner with Matthieu Chadronnier
4 Château Pey La Tour
5 Château Belgrave, and blending Essence
6 Château Le Boscq

See also:

The Bordeaux wines of Bernard Magrez (series)

Wines tasted 11/09  
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