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Italian producers embrace ‘en primeur’

The market for Italian wine 'en primeur' is getting bigger and bigger, with some producers reporting unprecedented levels of interest in advance sales of recent vintages.

The setup for en primeur is nothing like as sophisticated as in Bordeaux, but consumers are expressing a good deal of interest in buying wine before it is bottled. They receive certificates of guarantee backed by banks as proof of ownership. Some producers issue certificates only through banks, others sell through wine shops, or work with online retailers, which in turn are guaranteed by banks.

Piero Mastroberadino of the Mastroberadino wine producing family based in Campania, southern Italy, told decanter.com in three months they had sold almost 60% of the 4500 cases of 1999, 2000 and 2001 vintages they reserve for advanced sales. The family sell the certificates for the wine through an Italian bank, the Bank of Irpinia.

Mako Onfermann of web retailer winetip.com said the reaction from producers to the idea of en primeur had been ‘spectacular’, but consumers were taking longer to learn the process of buying in advance.

‘In the two and a half years we have been trading we have got a list oif 60 to 70 wines, so the producers are really jumping. But consumers in Italy are not really used to the idea.’

Onfermann said the top-selling wines included Masseto from Tenuta del’Ornellaia, Ai Suma and others from Braida di Giacomo Bologna, the wines of Aldo Conterno, Antinori’s Solaia and the wines of Giorgio Rivetti.

Winetip.com is in discussion with the best-known Italian producers such as Frescobaldi, Antinori and Gaja, who have not fully embraced the idea of en primeur. This is for a variety of reasons, Onfermann said. ‘They feel it is not a mature enough market, and they also have complex relationships with their customers that they don’t want to affect.’

A peculiarity of the market is that it is not ‘true’ en primeur – you are unlikely to find the previous year’s vintage for sale. One reason for this is the best Italian wines mature for four to five years in barrel before being released, so the en primeur lifespan is longer.

Written by Kerin O’Keefe and Adam Lechmere26 July 2002

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