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Bordeaux 2013: Chinese en primeur interest wanes

There have been fewer non-French wine buyers attending en primeur week for the 2013 vintage, with notable absences by the Chinese in particular.

The 2013 en primeur week has seen 20% non-French buyers coming to Bordeaux, compared to 24% in 2012 and 30% in 2011. Overall, the number of tasting badges issued by Unions des Grands Crus (UGC) was down 10% from last year.

China-based buyers were the most active in the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, and still sent large teams over in the 2011 and 2012 campaigns. This year, however, their presence is much more low-key.

‘We are not surprised,’ Arnaud de la Forcade at Cheval Blanc told Decanter.com. ‘There have been plenty of warnings that their interest in en primeur is waning, and the nature of the Chinese market has changed for many Bordeaux estates.’

Jean-Christophe Mau, of Yvon Mau négociants, reported that, while China represented 50% of sales for the 2010 vintage, he expected it to be closer to 10% in this vintage.

John Watkins of ASC is missing the main week itself, but will be in Bordeaux from this weekend – arriving from Burgundy.

‘The latest China customs import data shows a significant year-over-year drop in imports with French wines particularly hard hit (down 31%),’ he told Decanter.com.

‘The well-documented government policy factors in to this, as well as channel destocking. [My guess is that] the drop in buyers at en primeur is due to a drop in demand and the need to sell down existing inventories. But as in previous en primeur campaigns, as long as the pricing level is reasonable, ASC plans to buy both for our customers as well as our own strategic stock’.

Other Asia-based buyers are also willing to purchase at the right price.

Kenneth Ren, of Vintasia in Hong Kong, said that Bordeaux still represents 90% of sales by volume, and 80% by value. ‘I bought €2 million of wine in 2010, €400,000 2011 and €500,000 2012. This year the volumes I buy are dependent on price. I still have stock left of the last three vintages, including 2010. Of the past two years, 2012 sold better than 2011; I have only 50% of stock left of the 2012, whereas the 2011 has nearly not moved at all.’

Ren commented that this year the Hong Kong and Chinese buyers that he has seen are only here if they have a specific reason to be in Bordeaux. ‘There is none of the fun factor that there has been in recent campaigns, when buyers come for the experience’.

Three chateaux representatives in Asia – Thibault Pontallier of Chateau Margaux, Rufus Beazley of Chateau Latour and Adrien Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier – all reiterated that Chinese government curbs on officials’ entertainment budgets have had a big effect.

‘The government’s new policy has been very successful,’ said Bernard, ‘but this will be a good thing in the long run. The market is stabilising, and we are now speaking to the real drinkers’.

‘We didn’t hold tastings in China of the older vintages that we have put on the market,’ Beazley told Decanter.com, ‘as we expected that more Chinese buyers would be coming to Latour, but numbers are certainly down.’

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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