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Anson: Bordeaux 2015 behind the scenes – part two

Negociants are clearing the decks for a highly anticipated Bordeaux 2015 vintage, but even a very good crop of wines will not be a silver bullet for en primeur, reports Jane Anson in the second part of her behind-the-scenes look at this year's harvest.

Alongside lavish château parties and whispering courtiers, the négociants are gearing up for a Bordeaux 2015 vintage that has the makings of being the best for several years – albeit the grapes are barely picked.

On the négociant side, Axel Vallet at Ballande & Meneret says that behind the scenes, merchants are clearing their cellars to get ready to buy the Bordeaux 2015 wines.

There is no doubt that price will make a difference to the volumes purchased, but good vintages like 2015 are not the time to let go of existing allocations, and many are quietly maneuvering to have the cash ready to take significant positions on the right wines.

But that doesn’t mean those wines will necessarily sell on from Bordeaux. For anyone who thinks 2015 will provide a silver bullet for the problems that en primeur has faced over the past five years, think again.

‘It is unlikely that châteaux will alter their strategy of keeping significant quantities back at the estate to sell at a later date,’ says Vallet, ‘and unlikely also that they will keep prices at the same level as last year. Bordeaux is adjusting to that fact, and both courtiers and négociants are moving towards selling older vintages. This is something that the market is increasingly asking for, and well-established firms who have good stocks of back years are in the strongest position right now’.

Luckily, one of the best things about good vintages is that top châteaux can stick to high prices if they choose – and wine lovers get to go elsewhere and still feel confident of quality. There are plenty of courtiers such as Charles Ripert who specialise in these ‘petit châteaux’ (think cru bourgeois, Graves, Côtes de Bordeaux). Years such as 2015 mean that they are among the busiest of all players in the region right now, secure in the knowledge that their châteaux are going to be much in demand.

‘I will soon begin discussing with owners what they want to do with any remaining stocks of 2014, before the new sales come into play,’ says Ripert. ‘We won’t worry about the 2013s for now. There is no appetite for them at the moment but like 1997 and 2007 before them, eventually they will sell through. It’s just a question of waiting it out. But great years like 2015 provide opportunities to cement relationships, to carve out niches in new markets and to give smaller properties breathing space in terms of their cash flow’.

‘Whether 2015 breathes new life into the grand cru En Primeur market remains to be seen,’ he adds. ‘I am a little outside of those transactions, and I am happy to be so. Good vintages tend to mean inevitable price rises, and finding buyers is likely to remain challenging’.

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