Think of Bordeaux and you probably have an image of a chateau. You’d be right; more than sixty per cent of Bordeaux wine is bottled at the property where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, easily identified with the mention of ‘Mise en Bouteille au Château’ on the label.
But what about the other forty per cent? Most of this is bottled by Bordeaux merchants (negociants) under their own labels and sold as branded wines. These wines have not always enjoyed a great brand image, considered to be blended from left over wines that chateau choose not to bottle under their own label. I encourage you to look again, changes are afoot in sourcing and style that merit reconsideration.
What is the point of a brand if Bordeaux is all about châteaux? A branded wine offers large volumes of a consistent style, year in year out, that wine from a single property cannot. This consistency is what some clients are looking for, reassurance that every time they reach for a bottle it will be as good as the last one. Not every wine geek’s dream perhaps but just what appeals to an important part of the market.
Brands can do this as their wines are sourced from across the Bordeaux region. With about 8 000 wine estates and a total area of over 110 000 ha, Bordeaux is big enough to offer negociants plenty of choice of raw material from different soils and grape varieties. This diversity gives added complexity but more importantly the large choice allows blenders the flexibility to create that consistent signature style that consumers expect from their brand.
Up until the 1970s it was rare for chateaux to bottled their own wine, negociants took delivery of the wine in the spring following the harvest. Ageing, blending and bottling all took place in their cellars, along the Quai des Chatrons in Bordeaux.
It was Philippe de Rothschild who pioneered the change to chateau bottling in the 1920s, determined to control quality from start to finish, so it is ironic that the best known Bordeaux Brand, Mouton Cadet, is from his stable.
Created in 1930, Mouton Cadet was the ‘cadet’ (little brother) of Château Mouton Rothschild created by Baron Philippe who wanted to bring a well crafted Bordeaux to a much larger audience – a different wine, with a different concept. It started as a Pauillac with some wines from the château blended with other Pauillac properties. After the Second World War the blend grew to include wines from other Bordeaux appellations, losing its Pauillac appellation to become Bordeaux. The brand, as we know it today, was born.
Traditionally Mouton Cadet wines were blended from bulk wines for sale on the ‘La Place de Bordeaux’. As of 2004 the philosophy and the style changed; closer direct partnerships with growers represented 50-75% of the wine
With the current release of the 2015 vintage, all the wines blended for Mouton Cadet are sourced through these exclusive contracts. 453 producer partners with 1520 ha of selected plots (about half of which are in the Côtes de Bordeaux appellations) work directly with the in-house team of seven winemakers who act as consultants from field to cellar, ensuring the supply, the quality and consistency they are looking with each vintage. This might sound straightforward, but when you are producing over 12 million bottles – that’s a lot of wine.
They work with these selected plots of vines but the wine making takes place at the vineyard, it is the finished wines, not the grapes, that are brought to the production facility for quality control, blending, ageing and finally bottling.
The result? This intimate involvement in production gave the Mouton Cadet team the tools to respond to consumer demand giving the fruitier, Merlot dominated style with the 2015 vintage.
Brighter, lighter labels reflect this change: they still feature the ‘Barbacchus’ logo, although a slightly modernised version (if you look closely the famous ram seems to have a slight smile on his lips).
The Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Rouge is the famous flagship, but the complete range includes whites and rosés. Alongside the Bordeaux Blanc, a classic Sauvignon – Semillon – Muscadelle blend, there is a pure Bordeaux Sauvignon and an Ice Rosé, sourced outside Bordeaux but made by the same team. These last two wines are sold with a screw cap closure, another nod to modernity and the Ice Rosé, presented in frosted glass is blended specifically to be served on ice, piggybacking the fashion for ‘champagne piscine‘ perhaps? A whole new image for what is considered a very classic Bordeaux.
The more concentrated Reserve range is destined for wine shops and restaurants and is presented in heavier bottles, featuring Medoc, Saint Emilion, Graves white and red as well as Bordeaux white and red appellations. Now we start to see the complexity that the region of Bordeaux has to offer.
Does it work? Yes I think so; these wines offer a complete, easy to understand and accessible range of Bordeaux wines. You might find some château-bottled equivalents at similar or even cheaper price points but not in these volumes and with this consistency. Consider these wines as the training wheels of Bordeaux; they allow people to discover Bordeaux with no fear of mispronunciation, challenging appellations or classifications.
The new style is aimed at reaching a younger clientele; France drinks 60% of Bordeaux wines, yet Mouton Cadet is exported across 150 countries that account for 80% of the volume produced, in markets where the complexity of Bordeaux can be a barrier for consumers. So yes it works, at home and abroad. Lookout for the new version as of this autumn near you and judge for yourself.