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Bordeaux 2009: will hype translate into sales?

As the Bordeaux 2009 campaign starts in earnest, there is no shortage of hyperbole - but some voices are calling for restraint.

Berry Bros’ director Simon Staples was unambiguous on his return from Bordeaux earlier this month.

‘What is clear is that we are onto something spectacular again… but with an ever-increasing demand, especially from Asia, it won’t be cheap.’

Other UK merchants are more circumspect. One said, ‘The Bordelais are excited enough about 2009 as it is, we don’t want them to put prices up too much.’

Speculation is already rife that the first growths will release at prices approaching 2005. Some observers are predicting up to €300 a bottle for the first tranche.

The possibility of high prices at the tail end of recession is already worrying some: would buyers’ pockets be deep enough?

One negociant said, ‘I have no doubt there will be huge demand for the wines, and we will be able to sell out in theory pretty quickly. But who will have the money when it comes to delivery? That is far less certain.’

Union des Grands Crus director Sylvie Cazes told decanter.com that there were a number of ‘very positive indicators in place’ but added, ‘this is going to be a difficult campaign to judge, because there are so many elements like the state of the economy to take into account.’

One factor that many merchants are studying is the renewed presence of Asian and American buyers.

It is understood they are booking their places at next month’s tastings in large numbers – though the jury is out as to whether that will translate into major orders.

Adam Brett-Smith at London merchant Corney and Barrow said there was Asian interest, but ‘no stronger than it’s always been.’

At another major London merchant, Bordeaux Index, owner Gary Boom is buoyant. He expects to sell £25m en primeur this year – more than twice as much 2008 – 20% of it to private Asian buyers.

‘For the first time private Asian buyers are going to pile in,’ he told decanter.com, adding that his order book was fuller than in any record year.

But Boom had one caveat: ‘If [Robert] Parker is lukewarm, we will have to be very careful.’

He put forward one possible scenario: if Parker gives Chateau Margaux 96-100 points, for example, and the chateau priced it at €350, this would translate to over £4500 a case to the consumer.

‘Why would I want to buy it if I can get the 1996, which got 99 points, or the 2003, which got 100 points, for £4,500 a case?’

Back in Bordeaux, the expected success of the vintage has seen a few high-profile names putting their wines back on to the Place de Bordeaux – the negociant system – after a few years of selling direct through their own sales network.

Stephen Adams, the American owner of Chateau Fonplegade in Saint Emilion, is now back on the Place after an absence of four years, and Michel Rolland will be selling his Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and Château Fontenil in Fronsac through a small number of Bordeaux merchants.

David Lesage of the Rolland Collection told decanter.com, ‘For the truly great vintages, the Place has the best capacity for promoting the wines.’

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Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux, and Adam Lechmere

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