Complaints about inflation in French wine prices aren't making much of an impression in Bordeaux. A level-headed British merchant writes from there that "we really have some very pretty wines here," meaning the vintages of 1975 and 1976. Armed with that knowledge, the wine trade shows no signs of regretting the sharp upward trend in prices.
According to Chateau Gloria's Henri Martin "calculating in constant francs, there is no difference between the prices being asked for our 1977 wines and those of 1970."
He contends inflation - not greed - can be held accountable for the $8 to $10 price tags here on bottles of classified 1975 Bordeaux. Which means, to Martin, current prices are "reasonable." Furthermore a spring freeze meant a small harvest for many growers last year. Whatever the quality of the 1977s, Martin argues, a grower who lost half of his crop will stand to lose money even if he gets an additional 15 percent over 1976 prices.
So much for the possibility of a decline in prices.
"They are very conscious of the risk (of runaway prices)," he said during a luncheon here. "So I foresee prices about the same as last year's."
In a carefully reasoned Vintage and Market Report issued in April, Peter Allan Sichel points out that total production in Bordeaux last year was the smallest in 20 years. He awards the wines passing marks, if not an award of distinction, for quality and writes: "There is no doubt that prices had to increase in order to adjust demand to the new restricted supply situation."
Henri Martin, who was visiting briefly with his daughter and son-in-law, Jean Louis Triaud, is legend in Bordeaux. He has built Chateau Gloria into a force in the marketplace and acted as half the operational management team that has increased Chateau Latour's reputation for greatness in the past 15 years. He also has served as mayor of Saint Julien and been a very effective promoter of Medoc wines.
The key to perfecting Latour and the dramatic improvement of Gloria lies, Martin said, is "a very severe selection" of grapes in the fields during harvest and an "objective, dispassionate" appraisal of the wine in each cuvee (storage tank) in the spring before blending. The winemaker must be willing (and have the owner's permission) to sacrifice quantity for quality and sell off cuvees that don't measure up.
He termed the much heralded 1975s as "magnificent" wines and said the arguments over whether better wines were made years ago or today are "a lot of noise for nothing." Today's wines are "cleaner" than those of the past, he feels. "Before it was a question of observation and luck," he said. "Now, vinification can be done in the best conditions, at the best temperature possible." But in making wine the human factor - the judgment - still is "enormous."
Wine lovers planning a trip to California this summer may be interested in a four-day "wine study vacation." They are offered the first and third full weeks of each month through October by John Thoreen, formerly on the staff at Stirling Vineyards. The class begins on Sunday with an introduction and tasting. Two further days are spent in the Napa Valley and one in the Sonoma Valley.
Students stay at the Wine Country Inn in the Napa Valley. The fee for meals, lodgings, tastings, transportation and tuition is $440 per person, based on double occupancy at the Inn. For further information write The Wine Tutor, 1423 Foothill Blvd., Calistoga, Calif. 94515. The telephone is (707) 942-5242.