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Bordeaux chateaux: fair price or ‘profiteering’?

While some merchants and consumers appear increasingly jittery about Bordeaux 2005 prices, others call for calm.

While not exactly rebelling, merchants are complaining that release prices for lesser chateaux are already very high and fear that, when they are released, the top wines will be very expensive indeed.

‘This whole 2005 campaign is turning into a bad joke,’ proclaimed one wine buyer on the US-based wine chat board in the website of American critic Robert Parker. To the recently announced release price of Château Sociando Mallet (Haut Medoc), at €25 ex-negociant, the wine buyer wrote: ‘People will tell me that the price is fair for the quality and the owner deserves the money because of the ratings by Rober Parker. All I can say is: I don’t care.’

‘It’s scary, frustrating and aggravating,’ Washington DC importer Mark Wessels told decanter.com. I’m shocked by the prices for wines like Sociando-Mallet, Beychevelle and Malartic Lagraviere and can only imagine the prices for higher-end wines.’

Others have been more direct in their attacks. In an email acquired by decanter.com, addressed to Jean-Guillaume Prats of Cos d’Estournel, a wine importer complained of the ‘disrespect for buyers and clients’.

‘The exaggerated ego of too many Bordeaux chateaux owners kills customer fidelity,’ wrote the importer. ‘How can you expect to maintain your customer base with such incomprehensible and illogical price increases? Come back to earth – your products are not the blood of Christ.’

The first wine of Cos has not been released yet, but its second wine, Pagodes de Cos, came out at €21 and is now €30.

This is ‘expensive but not outrageous’, one London merchant said. He pointed out that he had sold 65 cases of the wine in one afternoon, and that he had already had nearly 500 orders for Cos d’Estournel – more than twice his allocation.

He added, ‘it’s difficult to work out if people are complaining about the price, or the lack of availability of the wine.’ Prats himself declined to comment.

Other English wine importers are airing their dismay as well, however.

‘We are a little disillusioned with some in Bordeaux, who seem to be profiteering,’ said John Avery MW, of Averys Wine Merchants in Bristol.

He described the release price of Château Potensac, a highly-rated cru bourgeois – over 35% on its 2003 price – as ‘just plain greedy’.

‘It is a great vintage, no doubt, but there is a limit to how much the customer will pay,’ he wrote in a May 19 posting on his website blog.

Laurent Ehrmann of Bordeaux-based negociant Barriere Freres, conceded that the market for 2005 futures was ‘a little slow or hesitant’ and that some properties had gone too far with their prices. He did, however, commend chateaux such as Beychevelle for not waiting on their neighbours before releasing their prices.

A weak US dollar has proved an added headache for North American wine importers. Describing the futures campaign as ‘cautious’, Jim Smith, of the largest US wine wholesaler, Southern Wine and Spirits, feared an unprecedented increase in prices.

‘The weak dollar is a factor, as we are going to come out with prices that are the highest in history,’ said Smith.

Wessels pointed out that some chateaux were already selling at prices up to 70% higher than the latest great vintage in 2000 – partly due to the exchange rate.

‘The scariest part is, if the Beychevelles and Sociandos and Lafon-Rochets are all selling quickly at these high prices, how far will the higher-end wines go?’ he said.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos, and Oliver Styles

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