My grandfather, Robert, was an accountant. He moved on many years back though just thinking of him counting out my pocket money in the mid-1970s makes me smile. 10p a week adds up and is no small bananas when you are seven or eight. The adding up is maybe what he was trying to teach me.
My dad, James, is ultimately a salesman, but a clever one. My dad can do compound interest in his head. Give my dad less than half a minute and he’ll tell you, to the second, how long his dog, Basil, has been alive.
And then there’s me. Oh dear. I don’t do numbers. And I don’t do money either. I’m pretty good at spending it but counting it? Sorry, Dad. And sorry, Robert.
Burgundy is a place of beauty, and a place where beauty is made. I may have used this clunkily translated quote before: “God has blessed us with the finest terroir in the world; it is our duty to make the finest wine that we can.” The words come from the mouth of Jean-Philippe Fichet who, true to them, does just that. No mention of numbers, accountants or profit. Just the strive for quality, for something special. Something ethereal that I can’t quite describe and is way, way beyond a spreadsheet.
But the numbers exist and they occasionally intrigue me. Herewith a couple of number related (alleged) facts:
One of Vosne-Romanee’s leading growers reckons that an ouvree of Richebourg will set you back around two million euros. That equates to about 48 million euros for a hectare. Or, to illustrate the sheer bonkersness of the whole shebang: 4,800 euros for a SQUARE METRE.
Another grower in Vosne, whose valuation may or may not be the same, reckons this: that for the revenue of the wine produced had to pay for the land purchased at current rates (again in Richebourg) it would take around 55 years (harvests) to do so. And this doesn’t include the costs of barrels, bottles, corks, tractors, wages, etc, etc.
This is clearly capitalism at work or, more accurately, the fallout. There is little point in getting angry about it: it is what it is. The calculation of these numbers (or, rather, my attempts at their comprehension) led me to (a) the internet and (b) the telephone. Herewith a few figures that are of note if only in that they are numbers that interest me:
100 ares = 1 hectare = 2.471 acres
1 ouvree = 4.285 ares
An ouvree is a measure of vineyard area based on the amount of vines one man can work in a day.
1 journal = 8 ouvrees = 1/3rd of a hectare
A journal is measured in a similar way. This is the measure of vines that one man can work in a day, but with a horse.
A brief aside here: I am reminded of a particular teacher, one that no doubt had some rather sordid interest in his flock, who drummed furlongs, chains and miles into our young heads thirty years or so ago. I have nostalgia for the imperial measurements but still wonder (actually I don’t now, but did then) why we HAD to strip for our communal baths post rugby.
1 barrique = 228 litres
This will yield 25 cases of one dozen bottles plus a bit of change. The Burgundians call it a “pièce”.
1 hectolitre = 100 litres = 11.1 cases (of one dozen bottles)
The beauty of the metric system is such that even I can grasp that. Or at least the first bit. And finally:
To make 1 barrel of wine, you need about 350 kilograms of grapes
Look this up on the web and it may well say 300 kilos, but the reality is that it’s 350.
Which brings us to yields: how much fruit does a vine, or a vineyard full of them, yield? This is a slightly contentious matter: the general consensus of opinion is that the lower the yield, the better the quality. And yield is vintage variable: 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 have all been low-yielding vintages in Burgundy (though when the vignerons say “we’re down XX% against a normal vintage”, they allude to 2009 which, in old money, was a large rather than regular crop).
Short crops aside, a serious grower/maker of serious Burgundy should come in at 30 or 35 hectolitres per hectare in a decent vintage, by which I mean one that yields a decent crop in terms of quantity. So, if my numbers work:
1 hectare yields 333 cases of wine, or 3,996 bottles of wine at 30hl/ha. The same hectare will yield 388 cases of wine, or 4,662 bottles at 35hl/ha. So, sticking to Richebourg and a domaine that conveniently (for some) numbers its bottles, 3.51 hectares of Richebourg should yield between 14,025 and 16,363 bottles of wine.
Taking (conveniently) the former, this puts the LAND VALUE (i.e. how much you’ll pay for the land to make one bottle) of Richebourg at a shade over 12,000 euros per bottle. Which, even if you are “the” domaine, doesn’t really add up. If you are simply “a” domaine, it’s bonkers.
As the Clarethound would say: “Capitalism, eh?