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China was ‘missed opportunity’ for Bordeaux 2010

The 2010 en primeur campaign has been 'a missed opportunity' for Bordeaux, a prominent China merchant has said.

Chateau Margaux: ‘usual suspects’ sold well

Don St Pierre Jr
, head of Shanghai-based ASC Fine Wines, told Decanter.com that 2010 could have been more of a success than it was in China.

The CEO of the major importer, now owned by Japan’s Suntory, put forward three main reasons as to why the vintage has moved relatively sluggishly: the sloweness of releases, the high prices, and allocations.

‘If the wines had been released earlier, it had the potential to be a big improvement on 2009, but because it was so slow, because allocations were so small, and because of the negative press around prices, people began to have doubts.’

Allocations on the top wines were tiny. The first growths held back two-thirds of their stock in their first tranches, and Latour was reported to have released between 1,500 and 3000 cases, out of a production total of around 10,000. Berry Brothers had 400 cases of Margaux compared to 1000 of the 2009, the London merchant’s wine director Simon Staples told Decanter.com.

St Pierre (pictured) said many Chinese buyers were put off by the tranche system, in which third releases of wines were considerably more expensive than first tranches.

There is no resistance to prices as such, as the Chinese have only been buying en primeur for the last two years so they expect prices to be high. They are not worried by 2010 being higher than 2009.

But it is the first tranche price that is reported in the press, so that is what they expect to pay.

‘They reference the first tranche price. If the first and second tranche allocation is very small, and we then have to sell the wine at an average price across three tranches, people begin to think they are getting a bad deal.’

St Pierre said the general mood towards Bordeaux was good. The ‘usual suspects’ – the first growths, Lynch Bages, Pontet Canet, Beychevelle, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Angelus – all did well.

And, as in Europe, the very high-priced wines like Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Figeac and Cheval Blanc did not sell well.

But there has been little widening of demand. ASC imported 76 different labels this year, compared to 68 last year, and all the extra growth has been in Hong Kong.

‘Mainland China buys some 30-40 labels,’ he said, adding that that had not changed since last year.

Don St Pierre is No 7 in the Decanter Power List 2011

Written by Adam Lechmere

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