Bérénice Lurton, proprietor of Sauternes-based wine producer Château Climens, acknowledges the problem with Bordeaux’s image, but she also recognizes it as an opportunity. “Perhaps it’s true that younger consumers don’t see Bordeaux as the reference it once was, but that shift gives us a chance to forget all the clichés and open ourselves to the region’s diversity and strengths,” she says. “Bordeaux has a unique ability to mix power and elegance, and that combination will never go out of fashion.”
Lurton doesn’t dispute the damage done from the price spikes on the 2009 and 2010 vintages, but says the deeper story needs to be told. “We’re not being judged fairly,” she says. “The vast majority of Bordeaux winemakers have sensible pricing strategies. Bordeaux offers an amazing array of wines at every price level—and the wines of Sauternes and Barsac are often the best deals.”
Château Climens is indeed among Bordeaux’s more reasonably priced wines in relation to its high ratings. The average retail price for Climens (depending on the vintage) is $100 a 750-ml. bottle, while second wine Cyprès de Climens is at $50. The estate produces about 2,500 cases annually, including the second label. Climens consistently gets ratings in the high 90-point range: Its 2013 and the 2011 vintages both received 97 points from Wine Spectator, while the 2010 scored 96 points.
Climens’ reasonable pricing highlights the opportunity for Sauternes and Barsac in appealing to millennials. “Younger drinkers like sweet wines, and they tend to start with the easier ones and graduate to more complex wines,” Lurton says. “Sauternes and Barsac provide a path for young people who like sweet wine to enter the realm of fine wine.”
A key focus for Climens is promoting new consumption occasions. “I want to avoid terms like dessert wine, which is too restrictive,” Lurton says. “Sauternes wines can be enjoyed anytime, either on their own or with food.” Several months ago, Lurton held an event at New York City restaurant Le Coq Rico at which young sommeliers matched Climens with roast chicken and fries. “The sommeliers already knew that Climens goes well with Asian dishes, but they loved that very local, traditional pairing,” Lurton adds.
Lurton is the youngest child of legendary vintner Lucien Lurton, who divided his holdings—including 11 châteaux—among his 10 children. Bérénice inherited a 50-percent stake in Chateau Climens in 1992 and became sole owner in 2009 after buying out several of her siblings. The estate has been completely biodynamic since 2010. While Climens wasn’t the first major Bordeaux estate to go biodynamic, Lurton has been the region’s most enthusiastic promoter of the idea. “Some classified growths, including Château Palmer and Château Durfort-Vivens, are now experimenting with biodynamic production on a larger scale,” she notes.
Lurton says Bordeaux vintners sometimes fear that biodynamic farming might mean lowering yields, which can squeeze some estates with already-thin profit margins. But she says the progress on quality makes it all worthwhile. “At Climens, we’ve had no crop loss,” Lurton says. “For some recent vintages, the proportion of our Grand Vin wouldn’t have been as large without it.”
Lurton adds that Sauternes’ star looks likely to rise with the 2015 harvest, which has been highly touted. “For Sauternes and Barsac, the 2015 vintage will be among the greatest—like 2001, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011,” she says.