A group of prominent UK merchants has warned 'cynical' Bordeaux châteaux they will kill the UK market if they set prices too high this year.

In a letter signed by representatives of the UK’s most established and biggest wine merchants, negociants are told the UK market will reject Bordeaux if ‘the 1997 disaster’ is repeated.

That year’s vintage is now available cheaper than its release price. The UK merchants are worried that if 2001 is priced at the same level or higher than 2000, an already jaundiced market will kiss Bordeaux goodbye and move onto Burgundy or Rhône.

‘We have been alarmed to hear recently that some proprietors in Bordeaux appear to be unaware of the market situation in the rest of the world,’ the letter says, and goes on to warn that many customers were alienated by the ‘commercial cynicism’ of the 2000 prices.

‘WHO (sic) is going to be interested in buying this vintage…unless it is perceived as representing exceptional value for money?’ the letter asks.

The cosignees are Berry Bros and Rudd, Corney and Barrow, Lay & Wheeler, Farr Vintners, Morris & Verdin, Direct Wines, Justerini and Brooks, Richard Walford and the Wine Society. The letter has been sent to 21 Bordeaux negociants. It ends with a request for it to be sent to château owners.

David Roberts of Lay and Wheeler told decanter.com he has had very little interest in 2001, while he’s selling more Burgundy and Rhône than ever before.

‘Customers tell me they used to buy Bordeaux but have moved to Burgundy as it’s no longer seen as the most expensive wine region. And Rhône is seen as excellent value for money.’

Most negociants agree with the sentiments of the letter, though others are less positive. Alan Sichel said he agreed and would send it on to the châteaux. Another major negociant who refused to be named said he would not pass it on for fear of losing his allocation of wines.

What is certain is that amongst UK merchants, feelings run high. Neither Dylan Paris of major website Bordeaux Index nor Johann Bjorkland of Cave Cru Class knew the letter had gone out, but were very sympathetic. ‘The châteaux need to be more in touch,’ Paris said.

It is not difficult to get opinions from the châteaux themselves. One prominent producer told decanter.com, ‘You should first study the vintage, and then make a statement.’

Another said – tongue in cheek – ‘I’m sure the poor old merchants didn’t make any money on the 2000. We must have overpriced horribly.’

Baron Eric de Rothschild of Mouton and Lafite said, ‘I don’t set the prices – I’m just a farmer.’

Previously Stephan von Neipperg of Canon la Gaffelière has said he anticipated ‘une campagne sportive’ when prices started coming out. Antony Barton of Léoville Barton has said, ‘It will be quite amusing to see what happens.’

Written by Adam Lechmere