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The Médoc in May ~ Bordeaux 2009 ~ A First Glimpse with Frank Johnson

…A region that can turn grown men giddy with exhilaration…

[This image was purchased, as I’ve not been to France.]

I first wrote about wine importer Frank Johnson, of Frank Johnson Selections, on March 9, 2010. In my search to find Enoforum Wines a point of entry to the United States, I’ve been communicating with a lot of people… Some of them have created deeper ties. Frank is one of those people.

When we first met in February over the phone, something just clicked, and it was the way that we talked with each other. We’ve both been around long enough to know that certain people fit exceptionally well into each others’ lives. As a wine professional, Frank is right there.  He was raised in Europe, and has worldly sensibilities. (I liked that right away.) His stories are fascinating. Little did I know that he had spent a good deal of his life writing about his journeys. He’s a writer that I had missed, in my journey to know all the wine writer resources available in the US. Once he sent his first story to me to read, I realized that I had fallen upon a brilliant man, with an even more brilliant career in the wine business.

He’s been writing about wine for over thirty-six years, having two books to his credit, and I’m also providing a link to an article:

  1. BOOK: The World of Wine
  2. BOOK: Professional Wine Reference
  3. ARTICLE: Frank Schoonmaker

His career has taken him to places most of us just dream about, and – yes – the Médoc is one of those regions.

When we first spoke in February, Frank told me that he goes to Bordeaux every May. We’re now in May, and Frank’s now in Europe.

Having had just one trip into Europe under my belt, I can only imagine what the next trip would be like. The anticipation alone would drive me wild, and to read Frank’s latest emails, not just to me, but to his collection of people for whom he serves in the United States, I picked up on his escalating excitement, just prior to his flight.

We now have a correspondent in the Médoc, to tell us what’s happening in France during these important spring days.

Here’s a question and answer session that will give you more insight into what will be shared in the upcoming days.

The 2009 Bordeaux, what can you tell us about them?

[FRANK]  The 2009 Bordeaux have opened, at least on the level of the crus bourgeois. On average, prices are up about 10 to 15 percent over 2008. This is not a major increase, since the rate of exchange is now in favor of the US dollar, and the vintage is far better than the previous year.

Did you consider attending the Grand Cru tasting that happened in March, rather than traveling to Bordeaux in May?

[FRANK]  I didn’t attend the annual “grand cru tasting” in Bordeaux in March, which attracts journalists from all over the world, because its purpose is contrary to mine. First, it’s designed to coincide with the editorial schedule of many correspondents who attend – you taste in March to publish in late April – and that is deliberately in sync with the opening prices of the primeurs. A clever synchronization of product, combined with a release of opinion, is what fuels the market in great vintages like 2009. There are some major drawbacks with this approach, however.

And they would be….

[FRANK]  First, those who taste cask samples in March are not tasting the finished wine; the so-called “assemblage,” or final blend, which takes place about a month later. Second, with hundreds of journalists jammed together, each looking over the other’s shoulder, this is not an ideal venue for tasting wines that are a few months old. Finally, if the journalists were to do this exercise properly, and taste in May, after the final blend, when the wines are at least six months old and ready to be evaluated, this would interfere with their vital editorial schedule – and the results would appear after the prices were released in Bordeaux. Not a good idea!

So, this explains why you always visit Bordeaux in May, not in March, and taste during the primeurs campaign, not before?

[FRANK]  Exactly… This way, I can make decisions as they are happening, not prior to the fact. In addition, it’s a little known fact that, about a decade ago, the Union des Grands Crus Classés de Bordeaux decided to mandate a standard markup between the shippers, so that Négociant A would be offering a chateau at the same price as Négociant B. The sole difference is that Négociant A might receive a larger allocation than Négociant B, based on his support of the chateau in previous, less prestigious vintages. This happens on a regular basis, and by dealing with several dozen sources in Bordeaux, I leave myself less vulnerable to low stocks for a particular chateau, since I can make it up with supplementary sources from different shippers.

What can you tell me about the 2009 primeurs?

[FRANK]  Thanks to the Internet, and an elaborate world-wide network of connections, the 2009 vintage has already begun to be sold out. For instance, I received a quote in Tuesday, circulated it among certain accounts the following day, and when I asked to confirm availability on Thursday, was told a certain wine was already sold out! Normally, this would oblige me to stay seated at my computer all day, waiting for the latest quotes, instead of managing a business and conducting sales calls with the many customers who have expressed interest in 2009 Bordeaux.

Final thoughts on this vintage?

[FRANK]  There are many new opportunities this year, as a shaky world economy has resulted in new, more affordable crus bourgeois that have already been declared “sleepers of the vintage.” Those with whom I work, who follow my bulletins will benefit handsomely; those of who toss them in the recycle bin will miss out. In the meantime, I sent everyone a reminder that I wrote back in 1979, over thirty years ago, when I considered what was happening with the grands crus at the time, and offered some interesting alternatives. “As the Grateful Dead once observed, ‘I may be going to hell in a bucket, but I’m sure enjoying the ride.'”

By now, Frank’s deep in the thick of it, and if I know him like I think I’ve come to know him, I’ll be catching snippets as he travels along.  He’s allowing me to share, so we all may be learning a bit more about his Médoc in May shortly.

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One Response to “The Médoc in May ~ Bordeaux 2009 ~ A First Glimpse with Frank Johnson”

  1. Hampers says:

    I just recently discovered your blog and am so glad I did. What a sweet post!

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