Bordeaux: wine boom may be over

  • Wednesday 18 February 2009

The boom of blue chip Bordeaux wines may be over, according to senior industry commentators.

The economic downturn, inflated pricing and lack of interest in recent vintages could also herald a significant shift in the power-politics of the region.

One industry commentator even suggested that the boom in top Bordeaux wines was finished.

‘The speculative bubble of Bordeaux’s great wines is currently exploding,’ Cesar Compadre, wine journalist for regional newspaper Sud-Ouest told decanter.com. ‘It’s the end of the Belle Epoque.’

Compadre, who has been covering the crisis in the region, said negociants (intermediaries between the chateaux and the wine retailers) were struggling.

‘Some [negociant] firms have called the banks to try to get lines of credit,’ he said. ‘They’ve sold very little wine for months.’

Simon Staples of London wine retailer Berry Bros & Rudd also believed there was ‘huge pressure’ on the negociants. He said the market was in a fragile position.

‘All it needs is a chateau or a negociant to go bust and it all crumbles,’ he added.

Emmanuel Coiffe at the Salin negociant house said he couldn’t speak for all the negociants in Bordeaux but maintained there were at least ten companies that could provide an en primeur campaign this year. He admitted, however, that it was a ‘difficult market’.

Wine sales between Bordeaux properties and negociants dropped by over a third in the last five months of 2008, reported Compadre in the Sud-Ouest last month. The wine market was ‘stuck in a ditch’, said the newspaper.

‘Customers from the four corners of the globe have shut their chequebooks and tucked their credit cards safely away,’ it added.

‘It’s difficult to comment [on what will occur],’ said Sylvain Boisvert of the Conseil des Grands Crus Classes. ‘I don’t have the impression that it’s collapsing. There’s a crisis worldwide – all products, not just wine, are being affected.’

In October last year, Fabrice Bernard of Millésima, one of Bordeaux’s major negociants, said the slowdown in interest was the worst for 25 years.

‘This is the first time since we went into business in 1983 that we have witnessed such a slowing of orders,’ he told news agency AFP.

According to news agency Reuters, the value of Vintage Wine Fund, one of the largest wine investment funds in the world specialising in Bordeaux, fell 33% last year.

This year could also see the end of the dominance of the chateaux over the negociants and wine merchants. Previously, the former dictated the price of their wines. Now, Compadre said, there was a great amount of discussion between negociants and proprietors over the pricing of the 2008 wines.

Compadre said prices would have to fall to the point where 'consumers would say to themselves "I’d be stupid not to buy".'

When asked about the balance of power in Bordeaux, Coiffe said the impact would be industry-wide.

‘The market is all-powerful. Everyone will have to adapt,’ he said.

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