PAULLIAC, France – A top maker of classified French Bordeaux wines is worried that new money pouring into the wine market could turn fine bottles into collectors' items bought for investment rather than to drink.
Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, a former actress who heads one of the best known Bordeaux vineyards owned by descendants of the banking family, also said that recent price rises could turn out to be just a speculative bubble if buyers chose to spend their money on other status symbols.
"Should we fear that wine will one day quit the cellar for the strong room, the table for the display case?," she said at a dinner on Monday night at her Chateau Mouton Rothschild.
"What exactly are we in this competitive, shifting, channel-hopping world, bereft of reference points. What are our Grand Crus Classes today? A luxury product or something to share with friends. Something to be drunk or a speculative investment?."
JUST A BUBBLE?
Several hundred guests attended the event that lasted until the early hours of Tuesday to celebrate the bi-annual Vinexpo wine fair in nearby Bordeaux.
Over 100 wines were available for tasting at the dinner that ended in an elaborate fireworks display in front of the chateau, one of the main tourist attractions of the region.
Rothschild wondered whether the money that has gushed into the top-end of the wine market, particularly after a "fabulous" vintage in 2005, would continue to come in.
"And does the bottomless wealth spawned by globalisation promise a reassuring future for our wines or just a bubble of prosperity that could easily burst if one day those new buyers look elsewhere for the symbols of their success?" she said.
Mouton Rothschild is part of the list of the top five Grand Crus Classes wines of the Medoc and Sauternes region, an elite group with a world-wide loyal following.
But she spared a thought for those in the industry who are struggling to make ends meet in the face of slumping domestic consumption and increased competition from foreign wines.
"Let us also remember the serious problems facing many winegrowers in our region, even though many of their vineyards are of good quality," she said.