The Future of Wine Futures

Much has been written this year about Bordeaux’s en primeur campaign, and it is unclear whether buying ‘wine futures’ will become a thing of the past. Bordeaux négociants have suffered in the last few years as Chateaux have steadfastly refused to reduce their prices in response to demand. Is it possible that next year’s en primeur campaign could be the last of its kind?

A good deal for negociants

Future of en primeur hangs in the balance (source: Wikipedia)
Future of en primeur hangs in the balance (source: Wikipedia)

The way the system works at the moment, wine is offered for sale based on samples from the barrel offered in the April after the vintage. Historically this has been a good option for negociants to get a good deal on wines that have not been bottled yet. It’s not without risks of course, but in the past it was an exciting way of procuring the top wines before they had been released at a significantly lower price than what was commanded once they were bottled. And of course the price that the negociants pay is significant in terms of how this filters through to the end consumer.

For the last 5-6 years, negociants have shied away from en primeur – it hasn’t offered them a particularly good deal with the Chateaux retaining much of the profits. One weak campaign after another has ensured that the future of en primeur hangs in the balance now.

Resistance to change

Bordeaux is well known for being fairly resistant to change, with very few changes being implemented since the 1855 classification. Recently there have been signs that wines that perform above and beyond their classification are gaining some recognition but contrastingly, the recent declassification of Chateau Pontet-Canet’s 2012 second wine has reminded us that change is rarely embraced.

The time to act is now

Ultimately the future of wine futures lies in the hands of the chateaux owners – weak campaigns with little uptake can only demonstrate to them that prices need to be dropped in order to generate any interest. Pricing needs to be addressed now, since it looks like 2014 is going to be a good vintage, far better than 2013. One more poor campaign could spell the end of en primeur – something that has been historically important and that is completely unique to our industry.

There’s no time like the present – the 2014s are likely to be attractive wines so a drop in price might not even be required, but the Chateaux must realise that an increase could do a lot of damage.

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