Bordeaux 2016 en primeur – for the few, not the many

The Bordeaux en primeur campaign has come to a close. Farr Vintners, the UK’s biggest importer of fine wines from Bordeaux, reported that this, unsurprisingly, was their best campaign since the 2010 vintage. But it could have gone better. “Although this has been a successful campaign (and clearly a great vintage), we have only really sold 30-40 châteaux in volume. It would have been more successful if prices had been more reasonable. Too many proprietors have increased their prices without justification and many wines that could have sold well have actually sold poorly as a result of this. On top of this, we were also hindered by an exchange rate that was 15% worse than last year.”

Observed from the outside it does seem incredible that, given 2016 was the biggest vintage for ten years and the best since 2010, that so few wines sold ’in volume’. There are literally hundreds of chateaux that sell their wine en primeur (while the wines are still in barrel, a year before bottling). The buyer from Berry Brothers, another big player, told me that although they too had had a successful primeur campaign, he had turned down large allocations of leading ’blue chip’ chateaux because, again, the prices were too steep. At the same time, some of the top estates placed only a small amount of stock onto the market, so the word in the trade was that if the wines were in demand, you couldn’t get hold of them, while for wines that were in good supply, there were too few takers.

James Miles, the MD and founder of Liv-ex, the fine wine exchange, emailed me. “”It was the best year for en primeur sales since 2010, but many merchants were still left feeling flat. To the outside world, Chateaux pricing is very erratic. This results in poor outcomes for everyone. Price too high and there is lots of supply which nobody wants. Price too low and there is no supply and unsated demand. As such the system is failing both consumers and producers. By benchmarking prices against the secondary market, which has become much more transparent in the last 15 years, this problem could easily be overcome.”

I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on Bordeaux en primeur via email on gavin@bauduc.com, or direct message on Twitter @gavinquinney.