Predicting the Future of Bordeaux Wines

By | 11 May 2024

From tourism to biodynamics, how is the region adapting to a changing world?


Michel Bettane

Bordeaux has led the way in confronting some of the many challenges facing winegrowers in France, says Michel Bettane. But in other respects it lags far behind.

Every wine-growing region in France is worried about the future. The considerable impact of climate change has brought all agricultural practices into question. But it will be harder still to convince civil society to defend the agriculture that is helping to preserve our countryside, our expertise, and our workers from the maneuvers of the health lobby—the enemy of even a molecule of alcohol to escape from the laboratories of the pharmaceutical firms.

When traversing through our vineyards regularly, I observe a disconnect between the challenges faced by growers and the solutions they implement. A perfect example of this is Bordeaux. The region is known for its poor strategies in addressing problems faced by susceptible producers. Their lack of adaptability to changing consumer tastes and an inefficient distribution system further exacerbate issues.

Yet, the same factors which have attributed to Bordeaux’s high-quality wines are propelling successful transformation. Observe the remarkable metamorphosis of a viticulture system that was once staunchly conservative. Several properties in Bordeaux serve as pioneers for producers across France. Increasingly, prominent properties are certified organic or biodynamic. Among the crus classified in 1855, there are six biodynamically certified châteaux, nine with organic certification and another 13 transitioning. A total of 63 properties have achieved level three – the highest level of haute valeur environnementale certification. The inability to officially stamp their achievements on their product labels due to the clumsiness of certification criteria management, has led many to forbear their accomplishments, or out of a justified pride, prevent themselves from seeking certification.


Herbicide usage is now almost non-existent in all cru classé vineyards. The practice of vegetation in between rows is gaining popularity. Greater attention is now paid to pruning and trellising, restricted only by the scarcity of professional agricultural labor. Financially stable vineyards can afford top-tier equipment, aiding them in precision and minimizing product usage and energy footprint. Consequently, soils are witnessing less compaction. Additionally, the segmentation of vineyards into increasingly smaller parcels necessitates a better comprehension of terroirs.

Winemaking is indeed enhancing as a result of the growing understanding of all the little interactions that culminate in the production of wines that encapsulate the potential of the grapes. Every individual berry is examined for its health as well as its maturity level. The progressively sophisticated destemming machines allow for the dispatch of utterly unblemished berries, very similar to gorgeous caviar grains, to the tanks. Nowhere else have I observed such high respect for grapes or such precision in selecting the suitable harvest dates.

Wine and ripe products endowed by climate change have rendered it inconsequential to drive the grapes to extremes. Modern wines do not lack concentration and yet retain a richness of both tannin and texture, rendering them increasingly enticing in their youth. I side with producers who use this procedure and then incorporate texture and structure layers via the prudent extraction and usage of press juice. This constitutes a refinement level that is rarely achieved in other red-wine-producing regions.

Significant progress has also been achieved in the way wines are matured. The oaky flavor of the ’80s wines has given way to wines with well-integrated oak. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been without its accompanying disadvantages. A rigorous selection process to choose the finest lots for the top wines results in lesser production volumes and increased costs, and it occasionally goes hand in hand with the sale of second and even third wines of questionable quality or unworthy of a property’s signature wine. The heavy markup imposed by restaurant owners is the only drama, preventing patrons from enjoying these wines at their restaurants and reinforcing the perception that these wines are priced high. It’s a pity, given these fine wines’ approachability and delightful taste, even in their youth, which makes them perfect companions for meals.

Our distributors’ commercial dynamism could also use some enhancement. By concentrating on the top brands that generate the highest profits, distributors on the Place de Bordeaux disregard their obligation to other regional producers, contributing to the economic deterioration of over half of the region’s vineyards. Conversely, the producers offset this lack of enthusiasm by courageously protecting both the public and the quality of their wines. Family-owned or large banking or insurance group-owned producers are intelligently developing wine tourism. Wine enthusiasts appreciate the collective tastings organized in numerous countries, as well local sporting and cultural events promoting their general appeal. It’s a stark contrast to the speculative pricing and other spoilt quirks characteristic of the stars of other regions.

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