Bordeaux has other industry — tourism, the production of car components, aerospace equipment and electronics to name a few — but at the end of the day, Bordeaux is really all about wine.
Afterall, it is the world’s major wine industry capital (producing 745,000,000 bottles of wine annually) and is home to the industry’s main wine fair, Vinexpo.
I am an infrequent wine drinker at best. I know next to nothing about how wine is made nor what makes a good wine good. Yea, I’ve toured a couple of vineyards. I’ve attended a few wine tastings. But frankly, I have no real desire to become an aficionado. I simply drink what I like on those rare occasions that I kick back a glass.
All that said, I do love history and find marketing interesting which is why I really enjoyed visiting the Museum of Wine and Trade. The wine tasting at the end of the tour was just a bonus.
The museum is housed in what was the home and business establishment of a successful wine merchant, an Irishman, in the historic Chartrons district. There are many such “maisons” in Chartrons. Wine merchants took in barrels of wine on the bottom floor and housed them in cellars. The upper floors served as living quarters.
Wine merchants are an integral part of a unique marketing structure developed in Bordeaux. The grand crus do not sell their wines direct to clients or distributors. Rather, they sell them to wine merchants before they are bottled. This allows the Chateaux (vineyard) to ensure cash flow while enabling the merchant to buy at a lower price and take a risk on certain wines.
Did you know that wine bottles were an English invention? The first were made in Bordeaux factories in the 16th century. Of course, prior to bottles, wine was sold by the barrel. Coopers make barrels and at one time, Bordeaux had 500 coopers. Today, there are 20.
Ever see an 18 liter bottle of wine? Or a 3 liter? I saw both, and everything in between, at the museum — the biggest bottles of wine I’ve ever seen! FYI, you can special order them for weddings, corporate events, etc.
Wine merchants blend grapes to create wine(s) they label and sell. Consistency is their responsibility. The Chateaux, on the other hand, will bottle, label and sell, via the merchants, whatever blend nature provides in a given year. The label becomes the all-important identifier and differentiator.
The wine trade is an interesting centuries-old business. The museum taught me me a lot more about it. As for the wine I tasted? I sampled a white and a red and although 82 percent of the harvest in Bordeaux is red, I liked the white just as much as the red.
I, of course, am not alone. Thomas Jefferson said of Bordeaux wine, “By making this wine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt.”