EU regulations that allow En Primeur buyers to return their wine and demand a refund are under review and may be changed.
Under the Distance Selling Regulations 2000 (DSR), customers ordering goods by phone, fax, email or the internet have the right to cancel the order and get a full refund for seven days after the goods have been delivered. The refund has to be paid within 30 days of receiving the cancellation notice.
If customers aren’t informed of their DSR rights, the cancellation period is extended to three months and seven days.
This means a case of Bordeaux 2006 could be bought in spring 2007 and the order cancelled when the wine is delivered up to two years later, obliging the merchant to pay a refund.
Realistically, one of the only reasons for doing this would be if the wine has dropped in value between purchase and delivery.
Alun Griffiths, wine director of Berry Bros and Rudd, said this was the equivalent of a ‘one-way bet’ which the consumer couldn’t lose, and could cause ‘massive upheaval’.
It has potentially devastating consequences for wine merchants, who would be obliged to refund customers but – as businesses – would not be able to claim anything back from their suppliers in Bordeaux.
However, en primeur may soon be exempted, as the European Union is currently reviewing consumer protection legislation – including Distance selling Regulations – across the Union.
David Tromans of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said they had been lobbying for an exemption for en primeur.
‘We have the support of the UK Government as well as the Bordeaux wine trade. Any proposals for revision are expected in the autumn.’
He added, ‘We have been very fortunate that since the regulations came into force in 2000, prices haven’t dropped.’
Griffiths stressed that as the issue is before the European Court at the moment, with a decision expected in September, consumers would be advised to wait for the decision before assuming that the right to send back En Primeur wines for a full refund will be upheld.
‘It seems hugely unfair to merchants to bear the risk of paying for these wines, shipping them from Bordeaux to the UK two years later, only to find customers refusing to take delivery of them because the wines have not appreciated sufficiently in value.
‘This would give the consumer a one-way bet in which he cannot lose and would cause potentially massive upheaval in the fine wine trade.’
Griffiths added that the Distance Selling Regulations specifically exempt from the right to cancellation certain financial products, including the purchasing of futures in certain categories.
‘It remains to be seen whether en-primeur wine will be included under this umbrella.’
Written by Jim Budd