The Bordeaux 2014 vintage is a key opportunity for chateaux and negociants to re-build the region's weakened reputation with merchants and consumers by proving that the en primeur system can still offer value, argues John Stimpfig.
In 2014, Bordeaux could not quite believe its luck. At the end of August, its winemakers faced the prospect of another lacklustre vintage that was looking worryingly similar to 2013. Fortunately, the weather turned. September and October provided the perfect Indian summer and its latest ‘miracle’ vintage was born.
As Decanter’s scores and tasting notes for Bordeaux 2014 wines show, our team of experts was encouraged and impressed by much of what it tasted. However, this is no 2009 or 2010. Nor is it an investment vintage, if such a thing still exists. Instead, it is an extremely good, medium-term drinking vintage which should excite collectors and imbibers alike.
Yet many consumers remain deeply sceptical as to whether to buy the wines now, as futures, or later, when they are safely in bottle. Some are wondering whether to buy them at all.
Of course, much depends on what prices the wines are released at. If Bordeaux’s supermodel chateaux collectively price 2014 at the same level or higher than 2013, several UK merchants have already predicted that we will see another moribund campaign. And that in turn could ultimately lead to the system’s final disintegration and destruction.
Why is the future of en primeur in the balance? Primarily, because for the past five years – and some would say longer – en primeur simply hasn’t worked for all its interested parties. Most obviously, it hasn’t worked for the end consumers who bought the wines and subsequently lost money. With a few exceptions, you can buy all of the 2009s to 2013s now at less than their release prices. Moreover, for the past three campaigns, it hasn’t worked for the merchants or the negociants. Especially those who are sitting on expensive, unsold stock.
And what about the chateaux? Last year’s dismal, over-priced campaign was easily the worst on record. And because of that it damaged not just the en primeur mechanism but the chateaux themselves and, more broadly, the wider reputation of Bordeaux.
Today, Bordeaux’s approval rating is at a record low. In spite of the fact that it continues to make wonderful wines, it is now perceived (often wrongly) as too expensive, out of touch and no longer relevant to a growing number of wine lovers. One well-known wine merchant told me that Bordeaux’s share of his turnover has crashed from 80% in 2012 to less than 40% today.
It is Decanter’s view that this existential threat to Bordeaux’s hitherto pre-eminent popularity is wrong, misguided and must stop. Rapprochement is urgently required. But Bordeaux has to make the first move, by pricing the 2014s to sell – and sell well. Then the merchants must get behind the vintage and ‘brand Bordeaux’ to rekindle much needed consumer excitement.
The writing is on the wall. Bordeaux needs to act now before it is too late – not just for en primeur and the 2014s, but for the image and future of the entire region and its magnificent wines.
This column will appear in the June issue of Decanter magazine, on sale from 6 May and including a 24-page special report on Bordeaux 2014 en primeur. Subscribe to the monthly magazine here to make sure you get your copy.
Written by John Stimpfig