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Bordeaux 2014: Merchants nervous over prices ahead of en primeur campaign

Chateau owners have shown little desire to drop prices for the Bordeaux 2014 en primeur campaign, testing the nerves of merchants who will need to decide which wines to recommend to consumers.

A number of chateau owners said that they were aware of the need to ‘defend the en primeur system’ during last week’s tastings of the young Bordeaux 2014 wines, following lower consumer demand for pre-bottled wines in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

But, many believe UK merchants went too far in asking for a return to 2008 price levels earlier this year, and there is a desire that 2014 should be seen in the market as the best Bordeaux vintage for four years.

‘The consumer would feel cheated to have a weaker vintage [such as 2013] priced higher,’ said Olivier Bernard (pictured), head of the Union des Grands Crus (UGC), representing classified estates.

He said interest in the Bordeaux 2014 vintage was already high. ‘The last time we had as many people come [to en primeur week] was for the 2009 campaign, in April 2010,’ he said.

Bernard, who is also owner of Domaine de Chevalier, reiterated his call for chateaux to release wines at a sensible price for the Eurozone countries, which should allow a favourable exchange rate to provide a discount for buyers elsewhere.

‘If Europe is a buyer, then the US, UK, China and Japan will purchase 2014 futures,’ he said.

Some have called for a return to 2012 prices, although it is difficult to generalise because each estate has its own pricing history.

‘The price must not be more than 2012 and that is based on today’s exchange rate,’ said Mark Wessels, of Washington DC-based MacArthur Beverages over dinner at Chateau Haut-Brion. ‘Beginning with the 2010 vintage, chateau owners have consistently shown me that there is no advantage to buying en primeur. But, I could recommend that my clients buy 2014 today, if it is no more expensive in the US than 2012 is.’

For some, that might be acceptable. Nicolas de Bailliencourt, of Chateau Gazin in Pomerol, which tends to release prices early, said, ‘We priced ourselves too high in 2011 (35 euros per bottle) and sold 2013s for about 31 euros per bottle,’ he said. ‘It makes sense for us to release at the 2012 en primeur price, which was 33 euros [ex-chateau].’

Laurent Ehrmann, of negociant Barriere Freres, said, ‘About 25-30 top brands can easily charge a 10-12 percent increase in price, while 50 to 75 labels should stick to 2013 prices.’

He also cautioned against reports that the US would return as a strong buying force for the 2014 wines. ‘Americans have shown interest in 2014, but compared to their total disinterest in 2013, that enthusiasm remains relative.’

Jamie Ritchie, CEO and president at Sotheby’s wine for the Americas and Asia, warned that too many consumers may have been turned off the en primeur system in recent years, mainly due to release prices since 2010.

There are some very good wines, he said, but he added, ‘I don’t think either the quality of the wines or the prices will be exciting enough to engage a wider market in the US and Asia.

He added that he expected the 2014 vintage to provide ‘more of a European campaign’.

See more Bordeaux 2014 coverage:

Bordeaux 2014

Written by Chris Mercer and Panos Kakaviatos

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