World's most famous sweet wine washed out

Chateau d'Yquem vineyards.Photo / AFP
Chateau d'Yquem vineyards.Photo / AFP

Chateau d'Yquem will not be producing a 2012 vintage after harvest rain prevented the grapes from reaching the levels of concentration required to make the world's most famous sweet wine.

Pierre Lurton, who runs the celebrated estate behind the Sauternes wine for its main shareholder LVMH, said the decision, which will cost the luxury goods group tens of millions of euros, had been taken to maintain Yquem's reputation for excellence.

"We tried our best but unfortunately the weather was not with us this year," Lurton said.

"A brand like Yquem has to be prepared to not make a vintage. For the image of one of the world's great white wines and for Yquem's place in history, it was a reasonable decision not to make a wine this year."

Similar decisions were taken in 1952, 1972 and 1992. "It is as if there was a curse on us every 20 years," Lurton added with a smile.

Despite advances in technology, the production of sweet wine in the Sauternes area of southwestern France remains hugely vulnerable to the vagaries of weather.

The sweetness of the wine comes from grapes that have been left on the vines long enough to be affected by noble rot, which bolsters sugar levels and imparts the complex notes of fruit, honey and nuts that make Sauternes the benchmark for dessert wines around the world.

For the rot to develop, producers rely on a combination of autumnal morning mists and mid-day sunshine that occur most but not all years.

"We were cropping some good stuff at the beginning (of the harvest) this year but then we had a lot of rain," Lurton said.

"The quantity was not good and the concentration was not there."

With an average production of 100,000 bottles per year, the decision to cancel output means foregoing around 25 million euros (A$31.48 million) of sales, but Lurton said it had been cleared by LVMH boss Bernard Arnault.

"He takes a view on the excellence and the durability of great brands," Lurton said.

"We don't reason in terms of turnover, we take a long-term view. We may have lost sales this year but we have maintained Yquem's reputation for excellence.

"There will many more great vintages in the future that will allow us to make up for this one."

The 2012 Yquem has been the most high-profile victim of adverse weather conditions that played havoc with wine production across much of France this year.

A combination of spring frosts and hail and harvest rain slashed yields in most areas.

Early tasting reports indicate that quality has been maintained in Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone but 2012 is tipped to be one of the most disappointing red Bordeaux vintages of recent years.

- AFP

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