Sweet Broustet and Dry “Sauternes”

Sauternes today is faced with a dilemma. The region currently produces 8 million bottles a year of its sweet wine; yet, sells just 5 million―there simply is not enough demand. I personally believe some of this has to do with the fact that many consumers perceive Sauternes as being a “dessert wine” (a habit the region is looking to break) and therefore, are accustomed to serving it only during dessert.

In France, Sauternes is customarily served as a pre-dinner aperitif, often accompanied with foie gras. During the holidays, supermarket shelves are well-stocked with both wine and pâté at various prices points. Yet, outside of France, consumption is fairly modest. The reason why may be cultural (sweet wine = dessert only), or economical (too expensive!), or gastronomical (you’re saying I’m suppose to drink this with goose liver?)

Ch. Broustet’s Marketing & Export Manager, Guillaume Forcade, barrel-samples the ’09 dry white wine.

So, given this dilemma, if you’re a Sauternes producer looking to make a profit in today’s market, what can you do? Here’s a look at how one producer has incorporated a few creative ideas and some commonsense practices to remain competitive.

Château Broustet

My MBA class recently traveled to the Sauternes region, which included a visit to Château Broustet, a second classified growth from the 1855 Sauternes and Barsac classification (a ranking of Bordeaux’s sweet wines according to market value―not to be confused with the Médoc classification from the same year that ranks the region’s red wines).

We were welcomed by Marketing and Export Manager (and recent BIWI graduate), Guillaume Forcade. Guillaume gave us a very brief tour of the outside vineyards (cut short by the frigid temps), then led everyone inside the cellars to introduce us to the wines of Château Broustet.

Same grapes, different style

Like most Sauternes producers, Ch. Broustet is also having difficulty selling its sweet wine. Yet, demand for dry white wine is increasing, particularly in the export markets where Guillaume concentrates most of the property’s sales efforts. Ch. Broustet is now increasing production of its Le Blanc Sec, which is made from the same grapes used for its namesake sweet wine (Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle), only without the influence of Botrytis.

Guillaume let us barrel-sample the ’09 Le Blanc Sec. I honestly couldn’t tell I was tasting an unfinished wine. The nose was of very ripe tropical fruit (notably pineapple) mixed in with toasted sugar. The taste was delicious. There were flavors of marshmallow and caramelized sugar intermingled with pineapple and papaya―and no biting acidity what-so-ever. It’s one of those wines that just melts in your mouth if you let it sit there long enough.     

A flyer for a Christmas party announcing the arrival of “Sweet Broustet.”

Already, 20,000 bottles of Ch. Broustet’s ’09 dry white have been sold en primeur. Since it’s not sweet, it must be classified as an AOC Bordeaux. However, the property is still allowed to promote its second growth classification status on the label because the wine is coming from the same land. Also, since its dry wine production yields 3x more product than its sweet wine, Ch. Broustet is fully capable of increasing production numbers to meet the growing demand for dry white wine.  

Single-serving Sauternes

Guillaume also introduced “Sweet Broustet” to the château’s product lineup. Packaged in single-serving test tube-shaped bottles with screw cap closures, Sweet Broustet is a new representation of the property’s sweet wine intended for nightclubs and other party-like occasions.  Its innovative packaging promotes consumption under new circumstances―in lieu of the usual foie gras or dessert pairings, Sauternes can now be consumed together with strobe lights, disco balls, and well, Johnny Hallyday.

5 thoughts on “Sweet Broustet and Dry “Sauternes”

  1. Well-done, Lindsay. I taught English for a few years in Cadillac at the Maison du Vin and growers were crying that they couldn’t sell their sweet wines. Selling more sec will help them but it’s a pity that Sauternes et al have to do a u-turn in style to stay afloat. My prediction? They’re doomed nonetheless. The sec solution will not be adopted by most producers and sweet wines have died as a category. With all the pallettes of wine that Helene and I drink per year, we’re lucky if we buy one bottle of Sauternes. I predict the govt will start tearing up vines and leave only a handful of top Sauternes/Barsac growers standing. The other properties will eventually yield housing for Bordeaux’s engineers as the technology sector is growing quickly in Bordeaux. Sad but probably imminent. Happy 2010!

    1. Hi Michael, well—that’s a chilling prediction for Sauternes, but not unimaginable. Bacardi should turn it into a mixer—that might save it 😉

      Happy New Years 2010 to you, too …and hope to meet again soon when I’m back in Bordeaux!

  2. really enjoyed reading this post. i love the white/drier wines from bordeaux. love Sauternes and they need exposure! not just red Bordeaux. thanks for bringing it to us in your awesome writing style 😉

    1. Hi Lindsay, thank you much for the nice compliment. Yes, though I do love red Bordeaux wine, I’ve been most “pleasantly surprised” by the region’s whites. In fact, people consume quite a lot of it here together with Bordeaux’s other great gastronomic speciality—oysters!

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