The year was 1995. It figures to be remembered as one of the most important annums in the history of French winemaking.
France has had numerous “vintage years” through the decades and centuries – years when the grapes were of such exceptional quality that the resulting wines commanded premium prices.
But wine is not like commodities, the prices of which are determined by any number of market forces. When the price of a particular wine goes up, it very rarely goes down in subsequent vintages. It’s a practice that is intended to, as they say in the world of marketing, “protect the brand.”
In 1995, the French harvest was not merely good, or even exceptional. It was magnificent. And it was hailed as such by a number of influential wine critics.
So, when those wines began to hit the global marketplace in 1997 and ’98, consumers came down with a cumulative case of sticker shock. Prices were up across the board and, in some cases, had doubled.
We’re all feeling pain at the pump these days. Now, imagine what would happen if that $4 gallon of gas suddenly shot up to $8 per gallon. Millions of people would begin seeking out alternate fuel sources or transportation modes.
Well, that’s exactly what happened with France’s 1995 vintage. While the most expensive bottlings were gobbled up by investors and collectors (for whom money is no object), the overall effect was to send millions of wine lovers scouting for more affordable vinous pleasures.
That’s when the wines of Australia and Chile and Argentina and New Zealand really began to catch on. If the choice were one bottle of magnificent French wine or two cases of very good Australian wine for the same price, millions of wine drinkers said, “Au revoir,” to France and “G’day, mate,” to Australia.
Of course, economic forces can change markets overnight, so it’s possible that one day the harvest of 1995 no longer will be considered a curse in France. Meanwhile, Vinesse will continue to do business with French estates that resisted the urge to gouge, while concurrently seeking out exceptional bottlings from all corners of the winemaking world.