Pre-Phylloxera Wine, But At a Steep Cost
At a price of around $4,000 per bottle immediately upon release, Liber Pater Bordeaux is more expensive than even Petrus, Le Pin, and Lafite-Rothschild. Yet this tiny Graves estate released its first vintage just 11 years ago, and to this day, Liber Pater only produces about 200 cases per year. So how can a brand new winery with such a small production already command prices far above Bordeaux’s most famous estates? The answer lies in winemaker Loic Pasquet’s passion for rare wine varietals and traditional growing techniques. Pasquet wanted to create a wine that would taste exactly like a Graves wine from the mid-1800s, before phylloxera had wiped out grape crops across Europe. To protect their yields, most winemakers in Bordeaux began grafting North American phylloxera-resistant vine strains onto their rootstock, and according to Pasquet, this changed the personality of the wine.
To make his wines, Pasquet uses ungrafted rootstock that was native to Graves at the time. He has also planted a number of rare grape varietals, such as Marselan, Tarney Coulant, and Castet, which used to be relatively common in his region of Bordeaux, but have since fallen out of favor. Because Liber Pater Bordeaux is made using time-consuming and labor-intensive winemaking techniques, and because the estate produces so little wine at the end of this process, Pasquet is forced to charge more for his ‘boutique’ wine than many of his peers in the same area. However, whether this added effort is worthwhile for collectors is still the subject of heated debate among Bordeaux aficionados.
The Controversy of Liber Pater Bordeaux
Controversy seems to follow Liber Pater. To start, the wine’s steep price tag already had some critics raising their eyebrows when bottles first hit the market. But beyond price, the estate has also experienced trouble with the EU and with local vandals. In 2016, Loic Pasquet was found guilty of defrauding the EU of nearly $711,000 in promotional grants for his wine. In addition to this conviction, Pasquet has also been accused in the past of planting his vines too densely and not documenting his chaptalization properly. However, to this day, Pasquet claims that these accusations are false, and that he has proper, official authorization to plant his vines at a denser volume per hectare. This controversy all came to a head last year, when Liber Pater’s vines were vandalized, and nearly 500 rare vines were destroyed at the root by unknown assailants.
This controversy may seem irrelevant to consumers, but it does have an impact on collectors. To start, the vandalism may affect production on the estate, which means that we could potentially see an even greater spike in price for these bottles upon release. A tiny, low production estate like Liber Pater simply can’t cope as easily with vine vandalism as a larger producer. However, the scandals around Liber Pater could also impact how valuable these wines are in the future, especially if accusations of fraud and improper viniculture continue. In other words, just because you buy one of these bottles for nearly $4,000 today doesn’t mean that you’ll make any profit off of that bottle in the future if Liber Pater’s reputation seriously declines.
When to Invest in Liber Pater, and When to Seek Wine Elsewhere
However, despite the controversy, there is undoubtedly value in Liber Pater Bordeaux. Pasquet’s effort to craft a traditional Graves wine is noble, and the wine itself is high in quality–critics frequently rate these vintages above 90 points. You’ll also find value in tasting a fine Bordeaux wine that is essentially a piece of French history. Trying a pre-phylloxera wine made with rare Graves grapes is a one-of-a-kind experience that could even teach you how Bordeaux wines of old differ from their modern peers. You may find that you dislike certain characteristics of modern Bordeaux, and decide to seek out wines that don’t have that particular characteristic. Alternatively, you may discover that you’re attached to certain traits of modern Bordeaux that you never appreciated until you sampled Liber Pater’s historical Bordeaux vintages.
While Liber Pater wines are novel, well-crafted, and educational, they may still fall short for profit-focused collectors. The QPR of these wines is often out of balance. For instance, the 2012 Clos de Landiras only received an average score of 87 points, yet still commanded a relatively high price. By comparison, Chateau Ducasse is located less than 10 miles from Liber Pater, and its 2012 vintage also received 87 points that year. However, this wine sold for just $17 per bottle. The trouble with boutique wines like Liber Pater is that they are expensive by design. This isn’t entirely the winemaker’s fault–some winemaking techniques are inherently more expensive than others. But a wine that starts off as expensive as Liber Pater doesn’t have much room to grow in profit. Unlike more established Bordeaux estates, such as Haut-Brion, Latour, and Lafleur, Liber Pater Bordeaux doesn’t yet have a loyal fanbase of established collectors, and there isn’t a significant increase in resale value for these bottles yet.
Additionally, most of the estate’s wines still only consist of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, rather than rare Graves grapes, because the rare grapevines are still maturing. This makes the steep price of Liber Pater hard to justify, even for collectors who just want to drink these wines, rather than resell them. In general, unless you’re a loyal Graves fan who wants to own every bottle in the region, or who wants this unique piece of history in your cellar, you’re better off investing in some of Bordeaux’s other high-end bottles.
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