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US merchants: ‘We can sell 2002s – at low price’

Major American merchants say if prices are low they may be able to sell Bordeaux 2002 en primeur, despite worries about quality variations, the economy - and Americans' hostility toward France.

Michael Aaron, chairman of Sherry-Lehmann in Manhattan, who said ‘overall the wines are pretty good,’ hopes prices will fall 35 to 40%. His decision to sell futures will ‘depend on the economics of the vintage and on the world economy – if the price is not right, I will not have an offering.’ If he proceeds, he’ll present a relatively small list.

Although Jeff Zacharia, president of Zachys, a major Manhattan-area retailer, didn’t visit Bordeaux because of ‘personal reasons and the turmoil in the world,’ he’ll send a staffer to do so in May or June.

‘I would like to see prices come down to the 1995 level,’ Zacharia said. ‘At that level, we could generate consumer interest. I hope to sell first growths at between US$80 and US$90 a bottle.’ He added, ‘I’ve had no consumers call me about the 2002s. The 2000s are still driving huge amounts of interest.’

Whatever the prices, Mark Lauber, president of New Jersey-based Lauber Imports, plans to buy selected futures, especially from Baron Eric de Rothschild estates, so as to lock in 2002s for retail and restaurant customers.

At Sam’s, Chicago’s top wine store, Jim Terry, assistant wine director, said wine director Todd Hess and general manager Robert Bofman had found ‘surprisingly good things over a wide range.’ He said: ‘We’re going to market the 2002s aggressively and competitively. We are looking for a 25% price drop. We hope it is going to happen. We think sales can go well – the pricing is the key.’

Christian Navarro, a partner in Wally’s, Los Angeles’ main wine shop, was indifferent to Robert M Parker Jr’s decision not to taste en primeur.

‘We can’t buy based on Parker’s scores, but on what we think is the best quality,’ he said. He has told Bordeaux suppliers that for 2002 futures to be successful ‘the prices have to be 30 to 40% lower.’

NB US$1.00=€0.924

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York10 April 2002

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