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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.