As always at this moment of the year, Bordeaux readies itself for the arrival of the world’s trade buyers to sample the latest vintage and negotiate Primeurs’ positions. For the region, this key event in the wine calendar, where future allocations of the new vintage in barrel are sold, is hugely dynamic, with the chateâux ‘setting out their stalls’ in their own inimitable style, showcasing the results of the hard work, talent and investment in 2015.
The Bordelais’ system of en primeur sales has come under question in recent years with lack-lustre performances of the 2011 -2014 vintages (inclusive). I won’t repeat the points made many times about pricing, but the observations I have made here in Bordeaux are as follows:
(1) Only the big merchants really profit from the en primeur system. That means only 10 to 15 companies effectively run all of the business; this is definitely not enough and generates too much frustration and very negative competition in the market. It is my view that this ‘stranglehold’ by the larger merchants is not always good for the market and we could imagine a better way to control prices after the chateâux release.
(2) Dealing en primeurs with the top châteaux from Bordeaux is not an easy task because obviously the power lies in the hands of the châteaux. In fact, the top brands of Bordeaux speculate on a future speculation: it makes a lot of uncertainty for very high prices. With recent campaigns, just a happy few profited from it. Robert Parker’s departure from the en primeur scene last year created even more insecurity with the loss of a trusted independent view providing an industry weather vane on the quality of the vintages’ wines and the price appropriateness of the release values.
(3) The basic principle of the primeurs is to pay less now, imagining it will cost more in two years time. Knowing this, why have we so many châteaux trying to sell en primeurs? It simply does not make sense! Roughly 300 châteaux are engaged today with the system in Bordeaux. Do you really think that some “Entre-deux-Mers” or some “Côtes de Bordeaux” will raise their prices in two years because of a sudden speculation? Not a chance. Even the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc should not be part of this party!
So why is the en primeurs campaign so positive for Bordeaux? …. Because it is in Bordeaux, with glamourous events, parties in the châteaux, tastings in the cellars, at the Grand Theatre. Because this week in April is the ultimate showcase we have to promote ourselves to the rest of the world. Even if the markets are tough now, we know that the big parts still come from the great brands of Bordeaux. You just need to visit some of the in-bond storage facilities in the UK to understand that big deals are Bordeaux deals.
2015 comes after a number of difficult vintages, sometimes underrated but fortunately we are lucky with 2015. It seems we are very close to a top classical Bordeaux vintage. I had the privilege to taste them just before the Easter weekend in advance, together with the merchants and brokers from Bordeaux. I must admit many wines show finesse and elegance, together with depth and power. Some signs show more than any PR-contrived press articles: when Château Cheval Blanc announces that it won’t produce any Petit Cheval 2015, most of the production will used to create the first wine!! When Château Mouton-Rothschild already announces that they will release less volumes than usual for the primeurs, keeping the rest in the cellar, that proves they are more than confident with the wine they have in the barrels!
We will, of course, come back to you with a detailed report on the tastings but I can already say that I was amazed by some châteaux: many are on the Right Bank, Troplong Mondot is simply a must this year, Clinet in Pomerol shows good things; in Pessac-Léognan, Domaine de Chevalier and Château Pape-Clément were more than great, and Château Haut-Bailly promises better.
So, Primeur is coming, I’m so glad it does. We’ll be there, trust us, we’ll taste all of them for you. It is a tough job, but somebody has to do it!
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