Two years ago, Chateau Latour announced they were no longer going to sell their wine en primeur, instead releasing them “when the wines are ready to drink.” Owned by billionaire Francois Pinault, the first growth decided to not pre-sell the vintage two years before delivery. The en primeur system of pre-selling a vintage has been widely criticized for a variety of reasons ranging from crass commercialism to selling an embryonic wine, one that hasn’t completed secondary fermentation and is literally years away from having a completed final blend.
In strictly economic terms, en primeur is selling the bearskin before catching the bear. Yes, that really is economics, with a bit of hunting: apparently, hunters would sell pre-sell bearskins when they thought the price of bearskins would decline in the future, thus locking in the higher price. Since this is a declining marketing, this is why down markets came to be called bear markets, at least accruing to a recent piece on Marketplace. In the case of wine, pre-selling a wine may be because sellers are bracing for a decline in the future. But it also helps cash flow, again, since they sell the wine two years before delivering the wine (in any format you want!). Either way, Latour clearly thinks prices are going up and they aren’t in need of short-term capital.
So, yesterday, they sold a slice of 2004 from their cellars. The price is about $600, which is about the market price today. But it is a far cry from the 110 euros the wine was sold for en primeur in 2005. In other words, Latour is getting 328% more today than they did in 2005 for the same wine (the S&P 500 was up 62% for the period). Not a bad return for the past ten years . And it certainly covers their storage costs.
Here’s an interesting chart from the folks at Liv-Ex: Chateau Montrose 2009 is valued at $1,400 more a case than Montrose 2010. The 09 surged when Parker gave it 100 points. (The price did not move on the Suckling 100-point score). But the ’10 stayed flat with 99 points. Clearly, a score of 99 ain’t what it used to be!
I haven’t tasted the two vintages of Montrose in question, but in some other comparisons of 09 vs 2010, I preferred the 2010s. So if this pricing continues to be played out across other wines in the two vintages, it seems the point-chasers will be paying an outsized and unnecessary premium.
Thirty years ago, the Japanese company Suntory bought Chateau Lagrange, a third growth.
I checked in with Bruno Eynard, general manager and wine maker, in advance of the chateau hosting the Fete de la Fleur last month. He had observations about global warming, China and the US, as well as observations on the patience and capital required in rebuilding the biggest classified growth.
Want to buy a five-pack of Bordeaux wines that Robert Parker scored 100 points? Given the proliferation of 100-point wines these days, that’s not the hardest thing to come anymore. No, the ne plus ultra now is a five-pack of RP 100s, sold as a signed set by Robert Parker!
SudOuest has the full story (picked up en anglais over at wine-searcher). Suffice it to say that the five-packs don’t include Haut Brion and Petrus. Interestingly, the negociant who put it together said that this would not have been possible before Robert Parker sold a substantial stake in the Wine Advocate late last year to Singaporean investors. The negociant didn’t reveal the details of this autographing arrangement, but said there was no commercial angle to the transaction.
No photo was available of the five-packs, so we run one of KISS, who similarly cashed in on autographed items. What will be the next in the Robert Parker line? Stemware by Christmas? After all, Suckling already beat him to that one. Maybe there will be some signed Ralph Nader memorabilia for old times’ sake.
Stephane Derenoncourt, a high-profile consulting winemaker recently told LeMonde.fr that the wine samples poured for critics and the trade at “en primeurs” received a “special preparation.” Decanter.com quotes Derenoncourt in the lemonde story ($) saying that “each parcel and put them through a special process to speed up the elevage.”
Robert Parker and other critics have long denied that there are special barrels for en primeur tastings. In the Decanter story, and one from drinksbusiness, the trade downplayed the notion, wondering aloud why would anyone do such a thing.
But one proprietor, Yann Bouscasse of Chateau Cantinot, told Decanter that he showed different samples to different critics, with Americans (or American publications) getting the new oak treatment:
‘James Suckling, Neal Martin or Robert Parker will get a new barrel, while Gault Millau, or Revue du Vin de France, will get second and third use. American tasters can cope better with oak – Suckling likes a wine with more body.’
Neal Martin tweeted in response, “I think someone should inform Mon. Bouscasse where I come from.”
In other Bordeaux news, a researcher suggests that Bordeaux red wines may be susceptible to premature oxidation, which has previously plagued white wines. Denis Dubourdieu, a winemaker and professor in enology at Bordeaux University, performed the research, placed the blame on wines with low acidity and excessive new oak making overripe wines and vintages as the most susceptible to the effect.
Finally, Michel Rolland cashed out, selling his Pomerol estate, Le Bon Pasteur, to the Hong Kong financier Pan Sutong.
Tis the season to pre-buy Bordeaux. The chateaux have decided to price their wine lower on the whole, with Mouton and Margaux reducing prices by about 30% from the 2011 vintage this week. That’s generally prudent since the vintage is considered of lesser quality and it’s against the backdrop of a soft economy.
Yet perhaps the most notable item about the en primeur pricing so far is that the prices have been released before the Wine Advocate scores (due out any day) have been published. It could signal an end of an era–one US trade buyer told me that the chateau were consciously trying to break away from having prices intertwined with the Wine Advocate scores. But it also could be that some other properties are trying to get a jump on what may be bad news. Which explanation do you favor? Either way, it will be interesting to see what happens to the price of those that have been released after the Wine Advocate scores are released tomorrow.
Bucking the trend of lowering prices, two right bank producers, Pavie and Angélus, have raised their prices by 30%. Both the properties were promoted to “Grand Cru Classé A” in the reclassifcation of St. Emilion wines last year. Apparently, there have been crickets for these wines as James Molesworth tweeted “And I’m hearing after their prices increases Pavie and Angélus are moving about as much of their ’12s as Latour did… #getit?”
Chateau Latour stopped selling their wines as futures last year.
Wine writers and members of the wine trade descended on Bordeaux this week for tasting samples of the 2012 vintage, which was a difficult vintage. Even though the malolactic fermentations have barely finished and the final blends are nowhere near completed, the Bordelais pre-sell each vintage (en primeur) two years before it is actually released.
The events set off a clusterschnook on Twitter about whether en primeurs are simply marketing at this point. Guy Woodward, former editor of Decanter, expressed his pleasure at not having to attend the “increasingly futile” and predictable events for the first time in a decade. He described the process thusly: “Critics taste unfinished wines (non-blind) earlier than ever but only one verdict counts; producers feign humility & refuse to discuss price…Don’t doubt most critics’ good intentions, but is now primarily a marketing exercise.”
Howard Goldberg’s tweet sparked the longest and possibly most productive wine thread to ever appear on Twitter: “Britain’s wine-writing Establishment is again plunging headlong into en priemur to play willing handmaiden marketing advisor to chateaus.” Read more…
Pierre Lurton’s iPhone rang while he was talking to a bunch of journalists yesterday in New York City. He stopped and looked at it, and dismissed it saying, “It’s not important. But I had to make sure it wasn’t Bernard Arnault!”
It’s not every winemaker who checks to see if it is France’s richest person on the line. But so it is with Lurton, who Arnault (head of LVMH) tapped in 1991 to manage Chateau Cheval Blanc and again in 2004 to take the reins at Chateau d’Yquem. That estate, maker of the famous nobly rotten Sauternes, was what Lurton was in town to discuss.
Chateau d’Yquem is not a one-trick pony. Read more…