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2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Promoting Bourgueil – Bourgundy?

Statue on roundabout and the slope of the vineyards

Now that Bourgueil and its producers have left InterLoire they are having to work out how to promote their appellation and their wines. Yesterday I had a call from Claire Gressieux, who is working with Guillaume Lapaque, director of AOC Bourgueil, on an audit which will help to develop a strategy for how to promote Bourgueil.

It was an interesting call and provoked me to think how one might go about promoting AC Bourgueil with its 1400 hectares of vines and an annual production of around 70,000 hls (8,700,000 bottles).

My first reaction is rather them than me! What symbols might spark people's imagination? Tough question I think.

Unlike neighbouring Chinon, Bourgueil doesn't have a picturesque and historic château overlooking La Vienne with a pretty town below and some medieval buildings still remaining. Unfortunately François Rabelais was born at La Devinière, near Chinon, and not at Restigné or Benais. True Bourgueil does have its abbey – l'abbaye Saint-Pierre de Bourgueil-en-Vallée, founded in 990 – and Jean Carmet, a French actor who starred in many films. However, the abbey doesn't dominate as the château does Chinon and I suspect that outside France, while the name Jean Carmet doubtless is well known by film buffs, it means little to the general public.

So what are the strong points that might build up the image of the wines of Bourgueil? Certainly from top producers it is among the best Loire reds and in good vintages will easily age for 15 years and more in great vintages. Typically it is more apparently tannic and 'masculine' than Chinon, which tends to be softer and more 'feminine'. This can mean that in some vintages Bourgueil needs more time before it is really attractive.

When I was asked what was distinctive about the wines of Bourgueil my response was there is nothing to really distinguish them from neighbouring Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. A Bourgueil from gravel vineyards is likely to be virtually indistinguishable from a Saint-Nicolas from the same type of terroir and similarly for wines from the clay limestone coteaux. I strongly suspect that the differences in style of wines from a similar terroir here owe more to differences between the producers than real differences between the two appellations. Driving along the D35, which bypasses Bourgueil town to the north, it is impossible to tell from the landscape where the vines of Bourgueil end and those of Saint-Nicolas begin. I suspect that if the appellations were to be fully revised today, there would only be one appellation here – AOP Bourgueil-Saint-Nicolas or similar.

There is an attractive sweep of vineyards that runs 14 kilometres from Saint-Patrice in the east to Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil in the west. Arguably the closest feature that the Loire has to Burgundy's Côte d'Or. It does, of course, largely face south and is nothing like as famous. But it may be something on which to build. I would consider renaming the appellation – Bourgundy. This would certainly alleviate the difficulty many people in the UK have in pronouncing 'Bourgueil'. The Burgundians might well not be best pleased and could well resort to law but there is nothing like a high profile court case for raising your own profile!


Luc Charlier said...

A few possible hints, Jim:
- « La guerre des ...Boers »
- « Bourgueil rime avec orgueil » and, yes, I dare it, the famous medical students’ rhyme and tune « Saint-Nicolas dans son cercueil / buvait encore du bon Bourgueil ... » rather than the somewhat vulgar «... / bandait encore avec orgueil ».

Jim's Loire said...

Luc. I'm sure the auditors will find your suggestions most helpful.