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Farr Vintners Bordeaux boycott ‘not an idle threat’

Farr Vintners has threatened to boycott next week’s en primeur tastings in Bordeaux unless the majority of châteaux halve their prices for the 2008 vintage.

Stephen Browett, chairman of Farr, traditionally one of the biggest UK buyers of en primeur, told decanter.com that the strengthening of the euro against the pound, combined with the economic slowdown, made buying 2008 Bordeaux a very unappealing prospect.

His comments echo those of Berry Bros & Rudd’s Simon Staples, who is equally sceptical of the prospects for this year’s campaign.

Browett said: ‘If the wines are released at the same price as last year, we’re definitely not going to bother. It’s a major problem to get the châteaux to come down, but they know they have to.

‘We’re not talking about them giving the wine away. Take Cos d’Estournel. We bought the 2004 at £425; in 2005, it was £1,120; the 2006 was £720; and the 2007, which was the least good vintage of the past 10 years, was £650. The producers have got to get back to 2004 pricing.’

Browett admitted that the 2008s were looking promising – ‘better than 2006 and 2004, somewhere around 2001 in quality’ – but that the merits of the vintage were a ‘secondary issue’, given that the pound is 20% weaker against the euro than it was a year ago.

‘Everyone knows that the 2007s were too expensive, and the world’s financial situation is totally different to last year,’ said Browett, who wonders if there should even be an en primeur campaign this year: ‘If the châteaux are not prepared to come down in price, I don’t see why they don’t keep the wine and sell it once it’s in bottle, when the recession’s over,’ he said.

Even if 2009 turns out to be a excellent vintage, Browett admitted that he would rather ‘have not stock of an unsaleable vintage, and take our chances’, than buy 2008 to ensure a decent allocation in the future.

He added that his remarks were not an idle threat: ‘We have not booked our tickets and we have not made any appointments. My advice to the Bordeaux proprietors is that if you’re not going to lower your prices, then don’t have an en primeur campaign. The public are not in the mood to buy unless it’s a good deal.’

Written by Stuart Peskett

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