On the Subject of Cultification of Wines

by Robert Millman

Anyone who is active in the wine business either as consumer, retailer, wholesaler or producer is aware of the fact that since 2017/18 there have been quite a few estates whose wines have gone up 5 to 10 times in price from what they were pre-2017. It is not important to name names at this point, but rather to understand what has been going on. Part of it is the consequence of too much money chasing wines made in small amounts. Once a certain price level is achieved then the endless hunt for bottles of these wines becomes the game and goal of collectors everywhere. The higher the price, the more desirable the wines become—not as wines but as collectibles. The tragedy of this cultification is two-fold: the wines all but disappear for those who are most likely to appreciate them and for those who can afford them they are no longer perceived as drinkable entities. Ten years ago the Keller Grosses Gewachs from the Rheinhessen were moderately expensive and available. Those best able to appreciate their special intensity and “terroiricity”, if I may use that term, were the wines lovers who bought the wines and shared them with friends. No longer. They are priced only for the wealthy.

I would like to given an example from my own experience. I have an acquaintance who has been collecting and drinking top end wines for many years. He has confined himself to a half dozen Bordeaux, Chateau d’Yquem, Coche-Dury and Raveneau, DRC and Perrot-Minot And Lucien Le Moine. Recently he made the acquaintance of Klaus Peter Keller who has been invited to quite exclusive tastings in Burgundy for 5-6 years at which my acquaintance has been a member for a decade. He gets a mixed case of the Keller Grosses Gewachs every vintage directly from him. It is the only Riesling he collects and in truth he does not care much for the wines.  How can anyone who drinks such a narrow range of wines truly understand the wines of a village or region?

It is hard to say exactly when the early stages of cultification began. I think of two Burgundy producers in particular: Coche Dury in Meursault whose wines started to get expensive with the 1996 vintage  (not from him but in the market) and Lalou Bize Leroy whose estate red Burgundies were always pricey but became priced in the multi-thousands after 2009. Raveneau in Chablis and Arnaud Ente in Meursault have seen prices quadruple. Recently the Chassagne-Montrachets from Sebastain Caillat have been cultified with retail prices about eight times what there were through 2016. This elevation of certain winemakers to near mythological status is likely to continue and to strike in Italy, Spain and inevitably Greece, South Africa, etc. One or two growers’ wines will suddenly go way up in price. They have been discovered. We are in the grips of wine cult-mania. Impossible to say how far it will go and what the effect will be on other producers. It is not a healthy process. Wine should be consumed among friends not collected for ego gratification.

Robert Millman

Robert Millman’s wine career began in the early 1980s, when he began working from Morrell & Company, one of the USA’s top wine retailers. During that time, he co-founded Executive Wine Seminars (EWS) with Howard Kaplan, which over the years became one of NYC’s most highly regarded wine events companies. EWS organized and conducted over 1000 wine events during its prestigious thirty-three year history. High points included Robert Parker being a regular guest presenter at the tastings, and through 2011, the results of the tastings were published on the Wine Advocate website. Having reached an age where taking a step back from the wear and tear of life in the wine fast lane made sense, Millman currently enjoys being a taster and wine writer for Grapes the Wine Company, an excellent, leading e-retailer based in Westchester (NY). 

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  • i read this article after clicking on the link i received in an email from “TerroirSense”. included articles in this email were articles on the “magnificent 2022 DRC’S” and “wines of the week”, of which one was le Moine…..🤔

    • It’s not a problem Kenny. It’s just different names of columns. You will be bored if you receive an email including only articles on DRC.

Robert Millman