December 23, 2008 / 12:06 PM / 10 years ago

Wine: Vintage '08? A mixed case of economy and ecology

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - In the world of wine, vintage 2008 was a blend of economy and ecology as financial woes put the brakes on a bull run in prices and more producers went green.

“The marketers got into the green word for wine,” said Alice Feiring, author of “The Battle for Wine and Love or How I saved the World from Parkerization.”

Boisset, the second-largest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau, bottled its entire 2008 harvest in plastic bottles.

The lightweight PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles drastically cut shipping costs without affecting the young Gamay wine inside and created packaging that was “absolutely recyclable,” according to a company spokesman.

Of course, there are others that don’t think the wine industry has really turned green yet, despite the rise in the number of biodynamic and organic wineries internationally.

“PET bottles are very leading edge,” said’s Michael Osborn, the largest U.S. online wine distributor.

“But if the wineries really got it, they would stop shipping their wines in wooden crates. The number of wooden crates that we open at our warehouses is incredible. Some of them weigh nine pounds (4.1 kgs). If they were serious, the wineries would forget the recycled wood and ship in recycled corrugated cardboard.”

The year also saw the astronomical prices of first growth Bordeaux plunge, if not to earth then to a lower atmosphere.

The Liv-Ex 100 Fine Wine Index, the wine world’s Dow Jones Index or FTSE or CAC-40, has fallen more than 20 percent from its all-time high.


Among those hardest hit was Domaine Romanee Conti 1990, which commanded more than $20,000 a bottle in November 2007, but sold earlier this fall for $6,500 — a 67.5 percent drop. Other first-growths from the famed 2005 vintage have seen their prices drop 20 percent or more.

The global credit crisis has threatened the way Bordeaux top chateaux do business.

Chateau Petrus’ Jean-Francois Moueix, told that he could not “exclude the possibility that there will not be an en primeur campaign in 2009.”

En primeur is a method of purchasing vintages while they are still in the barrel. It provides the chateau with cash, while offering the customer the opportunity to buy the wines at a price that may be lower than when it is released.

“If negociant houses can’t buy or obtain lines of credit for their allocations, the wine will remain at the chateaux. And if there are not enough takers of allocations, there won’t be en primeur sales,” Moueix told the website.

A case of the 2007 Petrus is selling for about $16,000.A case of the 1995 Petrus sold at Christie’s November auction for Le Cirque, the New York restaurant, for $14,400.

“Despite the economy, consumption continues to increase,” said Canadian wine writer Natalie Maclean (

“However, based on the 100 or so e-mails I get every day, drinkers are looking for more bargain-priced bottles. They still want a wine that’s delicious, but they don’t want to blow the budget.”

Those price pressures have been a boon to vintners in Chile and Argentina and provided opportunities for winemakers in Portugal and Spain. Less well-known wine countries such as Israel and Cyprus, which after all have been making wine for millennia, have also seen their shares of the U.S. market gain a bit.

Danny Brager, who tracks the wine industry in the United States for the Nielsen Company, a provider of marketing information, noted in an email that the wine industry’s 15-year bull run seems to have stumbled a bit.

“The stumble is that while it’s growing, it’s not growing as fast as it was last year,” he said.

Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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