Geoffrey Dean gets Bernard Magrez’s view on pricing for 2015

To invest in the 2015 Bordeaux vintage? Or not to invest? That is, of course, the question. Before long, the first tranche of primeur prices will be released, and while potential buyers cast an interested eye over the key critics’ marks from last week’s tastings, where the bottom line will be set is far from certain. Yes, many of the wines, particularly from the Right Bank, point to 2015 being a superlative year, but will the Bordelais get greedy again after four unexceptional vintages or set a price to interest investors?

Bernard Magrez

Having sat out the primeurs, and come to Bordeaux this week instead, I’ve got some encouraging news to report from one prominent Bordeaux family. Bernard Magrez, who is listed as one of the 30 richest individuals in France, owns 41 wineries around the world, including Ch Pape Clement in Graves and Ch La Tour Carnet, the Medoc fourth growth. Blessed with an acute business sense, he is talking of no more than a 10-15% increase on his chateaux’s primeur prices of 12 months ago.

Chateau La Tour Carnet

Magrez, who turns 80 next month, still plays a major role in running his empire, but the comments of his daughter, Cecile Daquin, the well-respected ‘directrice generale’ of Pape Clement, are worth quoting here. “Bordeaux owners have been too proud, and thought the world would come and buy our wines,” she told me. “But our competitors have more regular prices, while ours have varied too much from year to year. That is our fault. Some premium wines in Napa, Chile and Spain are very amazing – as amazing as first growths in the Medoc. So we need to be more realistic with our prices, and despite very good scores by Wine Spectator for our 2015, it is very difficult for us to go up by more than 10-15%. We need to stay in the 50-60 chateaux that will still be on the wine list of the Americans. We need to look at the price of Opus One and Sassicaia, not our neighbours.”

Pape Clement Cellar

This should certainly be music to the ears of investors, but will other owners of the leading chateaux take the same view? Daquin is not so sure. “Many vineyards want more than our increase,” she continued. “So I think there will be a big spread in prices. People are using 2010 as a reference but it is not the same vintage. Perhaps, the top five [the first growths] will go high but it is not a good image for Bordeaux. It could be a very big mistake to launch the vintage with high prices. It’s incredible that many owners don’t understand that. My father and I think this could be the last chance for Bordeaux.”

Daquin also pinpointed the importance of timing in the en primeur campaign. “If the second growths, for example, launch with a crazy price, it will be very interesting for us to go lower just after,” she said. “We are having two meetings with our negociants every week to find out what they want. We have a total of 1.5 million bottles to sell, so we must all listen to each other.” With some negociants still top-heavy with difficult-to-shift stock from unglamorous recent vintages, their input promises to be influential.

Renaud Ruer

Vin-X Bordeaux Director, Renaud Ruer, himself a negociant, commented: “Don’t forget that the Magrez wines are not the focus for investors in wine, (except Pape Clément which is not easy to sell if it doesn’t get a top score); La Tour Carnet is usually sold around 14-15 euros to the trade and Fombrauge in St Emilion roughly the same. These wines are at the border of the primeur business, they’re not really going to increase in value with age; so it is perhaps easier for Mme Daquin to say so. But it doesn’t change the fact that the estates concerned with the primeur business will have to take strategic decisions this year. The level of increase of the price will set the campaign…let’s see what’s happens.”