To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

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To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby AlexR » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:24 am

I guess I'm mostly referring to French wines..

There are all sorts of prejudices in the world of wine: against certain regions, producers, grape varieties - and especially vintages.

I have also heard people rail against the mediocrity and even the supposed dishonesty of "négociants" (which I usually translate as "shippers").

We have all had terrible washed-out or hollow blends sold under famous names.

But are négociants really worse than the *common run* of producers?

Of course, the question is "region-sensitive". Négociants rule the roost in Champagne (even in terms of quality, it could be argued) and shippers are often producers as well in Burgundy.
Bordeaux, meanwhile, tends automatically to be equated with the word "château".

What is your take on négociant wines? Do you avoid them entirely? How do you guage the trustworthiness or chance of obtaining good quality from a shipper you've never come across?
Do you find the situation has changed over the years - are négociant wines better or worse than they were a couple of decades ago?

Last, but not least, most French wine regions are going through hard times at present. One of the avenues of hope is the creation of successful brands, a sector in which the French have traditionally kept a very low profile.
Is the market open to such brands (necessarily involving investments in promotion and quality control), or do you think that this is inconsistent with your perception of fine French wine?

Best regards,
Alex R.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jun 02, 2006 10:05 am

Depends on the negociant, of course, just as similar questions depend on the producer or depend on the importer. There's not much value in generalizing. I depend strongly on Louis Jadot, a little more cautiously on Louis Latour and Bouchard, and very cautiously indeed on Yvon Mau.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Jenise » Fri Jun 02, 2006 10:37 am

Alex, in general I avoid negociant wines. I've had a few that were good, but when I do have one that is I always think, "Hmm, that was good for a negociant wine." I never think of them as being equal to other wines from the same area and vintage that were grown and produced en chateau. In part that's because I don't presume there's a track record there that's meaningful.

On the other hand I widely accept the practice here in the States. Now-famous winemakers like Adam Lee and Brian Loring, just for instance, don't own any vineyards, yet they're considered among the best at what they do (make California pinots) and their wines sell at premium prices. But their bottlings also always carry the name of the vineyard the grapes came from, and here those names carry weight. Most European negociant wines could be from just about anywhere.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Dale Williams » Fri Jun 02, 2006 10:59 am

Like Robin, depends on negociant. I've never had a Barton & Guestier or Yvon Mau wine that rang my bell. But in Burgundy Joseph Drouhin is consistently very good (in reds), and selectively one can do well with Bouchard, Jadot, etc. I've liked Potel and Dujac F & P also. And the Trimbach base wines are negociant, correct?

Of course, all of the producers I've named as liking also have domaine wines.

Outside France, I've found some CA negociant wines (Rex Goliath, Pepperwood, Three Thieves, etc) to sometimes be good value.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby JC (NC) » Fri Jun 02, 2006 12:10 pm

Jenise, I understand your search for a track record but I think you may be missing out on some excellent wines by dismissing negociant wines en masse. When I praised a Frederic Magnien Morey St. Denis "Les Herbuottes" and you asked about the relation to other Magniens in Burgundy, you were somewhat dismissive when you learned that the younger Magnien is a negociant (he will be inheriting his father's domaine vineyards someday). (Same with an Australian wine I liked that had Dog Ridge connections but grapes were from another source). I like some of the Drouhin and Jadot wines and have had several excellent wines from Potel and Alex Gambal (an eleveur/negociant). Alex, for one, is very involved in how the vineyards are managed--he encourages low yields and pay to the grape growers is not based only on tonnage which would be incentive to overcrop. I'm sure he also makes decisions on when to harvest certain vineyards. Monsieur Meo of Meo-Camuzet respects his talent and some vineyard owner (not sure which one) allowed him to produce a Bonnes Mares which was definitely a Grand Cru quality wine. He said the owner was curious about what he could produce with grapes from Bonnes Mares. I guess what I am saying is don't be so ready to automatically dismiss negociant wines. By all means sample first if you can before buying, but there are some excellent values there and some excellent wines.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Jun 02, 2006 12:33 pm

Why do you define the word as a "shipper", Alex -- I thought négociants purchased juice or wine grown by others and made wine or blended it, then marketed and shipped the finished product. Much broader functions than just shipping wine

In any event, many négociant wines are fine by me -- Drouhin and Jadot in particular. I find that they maintain the same quality for both their estate wines and their négociant wines.

Please let me know if my understanding of the word "négociant" is incorrect.

Regards, Bob
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jun 02, 2006 3:46 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Why do you define the word as a "shipper", Alex -- I thought négociants purchased juice or wine grown by others and made wine or blended it, then marketed and shipped the finished product. Much broader functions than just shipping wine


Bob, Alex can give us a more nuanced analysis, but as I recall it, the traditional <i>négoçiant</i> bought bulk young wine, cellared and bottled and sold it under his label. As the business evolved, many of the companies also began buying grapes and making wine, and initially were distinguished as <i>négoçiants-éleveurs</i>. You'll still see that latter term around occasionally - usually in small print on the bottom of wine labels - but as time went by, <i>négoçiant</i> came to incorporate both functions.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Jun 02, 2006 3:48 pm

My understanding as well, Robin. But I hope Alex will give us his reasons for translating the word so narrowly. Thanks. Regards, Bob
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby AlexR » Fri Jun 02, 2006 4:39 pm

Bob,

Robin's response is entirely correct.

I think shipper may be more of a British English term, but it seems to do the trick for places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Porto.
But I wouldn't use it for the New World.

My options here are (please complete the list if you desire):
- négociant
- negotiant
- merchant
- shipper

Having wrestled with this issue, I've come to the conclusion that shipper is best - but this may be better for a European rather than an American audience. Anyway, your comment leads me to believe this is true.

The word shipper in Bordeaux implies someone who is involved in selecting, blending, aging, and bottling bulk wine, whether single estates or not.

The answers on this thread are interesting to me because the word seems to conjure up the idea of Burgundy to most people as opposed to any other region.

All the best,
Alex
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Jun 02, 2006 4:56 pm

I think of négociants as being particularly important in Burgundy partly because of my lack of detailed knowledge and partly because the Burgundian négociants do such a good job. In other regions I'm more comfortable with learning the names of good winemakers.

As a translation, I'd vote for "merchant" Alex. My impressions are informed by Jancis Robinson's 2d, which provides:

"French term for a merchant (see merchants) and one used particularly of wine merchants who buy in grapes, must, or wine, blend different lots of wine within an appellation, and bottle the result under their own label. the appellation contrôlée system, cheating requires real ingenuity. ...

The role of the négociant is particularly worthwhile in Burgundy, where the négociants are concentrated in Beaune, and where so many individual growers produce tiny quantities from each of a number of different appellations. The selling of the domaine bottled concept by the likes of Frank schoonmaker and Alexis lichine was so successful that it cast a slur on the work of the négociants by imputation. This was unfortunate, but the likes of Drouhin and Jadot have worked hard to prove how they can be a source of more reliable wine-making skills than all but the top one per cent of grower wine-makers. The Burgundy négociants have been acquiring increasingly significant vineyard holdings of their own, so that Bouchard, Père et Fils in Beaune and Faiveley of Nuits-St-Georges, for example, are two of the Côte d'Or's most subtantial vineyard owners. ... The term négociant-éleveur implies that the négociant oversees the élevage of the wine it sells.

Like all important French wine regions, Bordeaux also has a great concentration of négociants, many of which own châteaux (while some of the first growth châteaux also now own a négociant business). "

In any event, many thanks. As always, I learned something new from your post.

Regards, Bob
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby JoePerry » Sat Jun 03, 2006 2:26 pm

I'm wary of all wines - negociants included.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Jun 03, 2006 2:52 pm

Bob Ross wrote:As a translation, I'd vote for "merchant" Alex.


Ah, off we go on another word romp ... I'm not sure I could support that, Bob. Although "merchant" is literally correct, don't you think it has an awfully strong retail connotation? When I hear "merchant" I certainly think of a storefront before I think of a distributor. Whereas I don't think of a negociant as having a retail aspect at all.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby David M. Bueker » Sat Jun 03, 2006 3:04 pm

It's always négociant by négociant. Guigal is useful in that if I want a correct wine that is easy to find I can depend on his Cotes du Rhone in a pinch (e.g. at an out of the way supermarket).

I love the wines of Jadot, though I buy much more heavily in their domaine bottlings. Their négociant wines are very useful for me in that I can get an inexpensive and correct Burgundy for uncritical drinking. (The 2002 Fixin provided a lot of pleasure for the dollars.)

Would I rather drink domaine wines? Yes. Is it always possible? No.

I would never build my cellar's foundation on négotiant wines, but they are necessary in the building of the cellar. They are to me the scaffolding that facilitates construction. If I didn't have them I would drink up all the "good" stuff.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Jun 03, 2006 4:52 pm

""merchant" is literally correct"

Maybe an English/US distinction, Robin. The OEd uses this definition for négociant, and defines "merchant" much more broadly than just retailers. I see that a number of US dictionaries restrict "merchant" to retail.

I suppose "merchant" works for me in part because of the "merchant marine".

Did you pick a translation choice? For a US wine audience, there's nothing wrong with using "négociant" in my book.


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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Otto » Sat Jun 03, 2006 6:02 pm

Drouhin rocks! Jadot can also rock! Who cares if it's nég or not as long as the quality is there? Just as producers can make good or bad stuff, so can négs. But négs can make superb stuff: just witness the notes I've written recently on Jadot's whites and esp Drouhin's Pommard 1996! Smashing stuff.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Jun 03, 2006 6:19 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Did you pick a translation choice? For a US wine audience, there's nothing wrong with using "négociant" in my book.


Bob, I agree ... I think most wine enthusiasts know what "negociant" means without translation and don't need one.

I wasn't referring to the book, just going to my own vocabulary with the judgement that if you say "merchant," many Americans at least will visualize a retail store. I'm comfortable with that judgment without looking it up. :)
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Victorwine » Sat Jun 03, 2006 8:45 pm

I think it should be noted that some negociants, such as Drouhin not only buys juice in bulk from other vine-growers but also owns his own vineyards.

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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Victorwine » Sat Jun 03, 2006 9:02 pm

Sorry David I did not catch your post.

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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Jun 03, 2006 9:05 pm

"[I]f you say "merchant," many Americans at least will visualize a retail store. I'm comfortable with that judgment without looking it up."

Worthwhile insight -- if an American English major with extensive wine and journalistic experience thinks "merchant" implies "retailer", good enough evidence to sink the definition for a US audience at least.

Back to Alex, I recommend he use "negociant" or "négociant", depending on the sophistication of the US audience and the impression he wants to make on the audience.

It's clear, as you pointed out, that there are different types of négociants, and there may be differences between wine regions as well - i.e. a négociant in Bordeaux might perform different functions than a négociant in Burgundy.

And, as far as I know, there aren't négociants in other countries -- using the word of the choice in France can't be misleading to the reader.

Regards, Bob
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Oliver McCrum » Sat Jun 03, 2006 9:32 pm

I grew up in England and got my start in the trade in England, and I describe myself as a wine merchant (I'm an importer and distributor).

This is often interpreted in the US to mean 'retailer.' I must be stubborn.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby David M. Bueker » Sun Jun 04, 2006 8:32 am

Bob Ross wrote:
And, as far as I know, there aren't négociants in other countries -- using the word of the choice in France can't be misleading to the reader.



While I've not seen it in print, I have heard winemakers from Australia and the USA refer to themselves as negociants.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Bob Ross » Sun Jun 04, 2006 11:33 am

John Larchet from Australia is sometimes called a negociant, but he's really an exporter and doesn't really fit the role. And of course Alex Gambal is an "American negociant", but really serves that function in Burgundy.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby Jenise » Sun Jun 04, 2006 12:46 pm

JC said:
Alex, for one, is very involved in how the vineyards are managed--he encourages low yields and pay to the grape growers is not based only on tonnage which would be incentive to overcrop
.

JC, you're very right to take me to task. The above is just how Brian Loring and Adam Lee (Loring Wine Company and Siduri respectively) manage the vineyards they make wines from, and I accept that as resulting in wines of superior quality. Yet I don't have the same confidence in most French negotiants. (I'll cop to not holding it against Jadot and Drouhin, as others have noted.) All I can say is--ignorance! I am automatically leery of negociant wines unless and until I know that there's a Brian Loring in there somewhere pulling the strings.
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Re: To what extent are you wary of négociant wines?

Postby MarkE » Sun Jun 04, 2006 9:51 pm

When buying Burgundy and Rhone, I admit to being wary of négociant wines; I almost always prefer domaines. But I do not rule out négociant wines and have bought from Jadot, Drouhin, Bouchard, Guigal, Jaboulet, etc., just not as much as from their domaine counterparts. I can't recall ever buying from Bordeaux négociants, and doubt I ever will. With the aforementioned négociants the quality has been consistent through the years (Bouchard since 96). When buying from an unfamiliar négociant, I would either personally taste the wine or rely on reports from calibrated palates, pretty much as I would from an unfamiliar domaine.

As to the translation of négociant into AmE, I prefer either negociant or négociant. (c-cedille is redundant, as it is already a soft c before i, e).
A related question: Why the designation of négociant-éleveur for one who buys grapes and makes wine, since éleveur seems to indicate only the élevage, which is what a "regular" négociant does? Wouldn't it make more sense to call such an operation négociant-vinifieur or négociant-vinifieur-éleveur?
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