Jane An­son

‘The trickle of in­ter­na­tional wines sold through La Place has be­come a flood’

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Jane An­son is a De­canter con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor, and Louis Roed­erer In­ter­na­tional Fea­ture Writer of 2016. Read her ‘An­son on Thurs­day’ blog on De­canter.com/an­son

A few weeks ago I was in Le Pres­soir d’Ar­gent res­tau­rant in down­town Bordeaux, headed up by english Miche­lin-starred chef Gor­don Ram­say, tast­ing through iconic Chilean wines (seña, Vinedo Chad­wick) that were about to be sold by french wine mer­chants through the lo­cal La Place de Bordeaux trad­ing sys­tem.

septem­ber has be­come one of the most in­ter­est­ing months of the year around here, as the trickle of in­ter­na­tional wines be­ing sold through La Place has be­come a flood.

There is quite clearly no turn­ing back now. Gone are the days when Bordeaux châteaux own­ers (one in par­tic­u­lar, but I’m not one to gos­sip) threw their toys out of the pram and threat­ened to re­move their wines from any mer­chant who dared to be dis­tracted from the busi­ness of sell­ing Bordeaux.

The new nor­mal is a septem­ber that kicks off with the old stal­warts Opus One, Mas­seto, Al­ma­viva, Beau­cas­tel Hom­mage à Jac­ques Per­rin and seña, now joined by a host of other names, which at last count would in­clude In­glenook’s Ru­bi­con and Blan­caneaux, Jack­son fam­ily wines’ Car­di­nale and Vérité, Har­lan’s Promon­tory, Clos Apalta, Viñedo Chad­wick, so­laia, Catena Za­p­ata, Ca­iarossa and Balasto.

Mathieu Chadron­nier, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of CVBG mer­chants, kept things un­der­stated when he told me it had been an ‘in­tense’ start to the an­nual re­turn to work, known as la ren­trée, after the ex­tended sum­mer hol­i­day in france. His com­pany has been one of the big­gest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the new wave of names, and I be­lieve he was in­stru­men­tal in con­vinc­ing a num­ber of Cal­i­for­nian es­tates to ben­e­fit from the con­tacts books and glo­be­trot­ting habits of Bordeaux mer­chants (it’s mainly CVBG, along with Du­clot and Mai­son Joanne tak­ing the lead with the Napa names).

what to make of it all? It’s been clear for a num­ber of years that Bordeaux es­tates have been pulling back from en primeur, re­leas­ing less stock each year, mean­ing that né­go­ciants find them­selves hav­ing to fill the gaps in their cash flow.

I won­der if the châteaux re­ally un­der­stood the power that they were giv­ing up by do­ing so? Most né­go­ciants I speak to now make more mar­gin in septem­ber than they do by sell­ing their en­tire yearly al­lo­ca­tion of first growths. And that’s with­out hav­ing to tie their buy­ers into other less-de­sired wines. There are also Bordeaux wines on La Place in septem­ber – no­tably Yquem in bot­tle and Château La­tour’s older vin­tages. But the stocks that châteaux have held back at the es­tate are go­ing to have to be re­leased at some point – and it’s get­ting to be a pretty crowded cal­en­dar.

It’s not all bad for Bordeaux, of course. As Chadron­nier points out: ‘The septem­ber re­leases get us speak­ing with wine buy­ers through­out the year, and so ex­tend the con­ver­sa­tion way be­yond the en primeur sea­son, which is good for lo­cal wines also.’

A word of warn­ing to both né­go­ciants and the new­com­ers, who right now are all quite rightly cel­e­brat­ing their suc­cess­ful strat­egy. Any non-Bordeaux names on La Place seem to be fol­low­ing the rule that this method of dis­tri­bu­tion gives carte blanche to raise prices year on year. seña 2016 was re­leased 7.7% up on last year, Mas­seto up 16.9%, Hom­mage à Jac­ques Per­rin up 14.9%, Al­ma­viva up 11.5%, Opus One up 9.4%. spot the trend, any­one?

I guess it’s no sur­prise that Bordeaux is seen as a won­der­ful place to raise your price ir­re­spon­si­bly. But how­ever much we may ber­ate the Borde­lais for in­tro­duc­ing the con­cept, they do at least lower prices in years where qual­ity is seen to be less good. If the iconic names now us­ing the sys­tem don’t fol­low suit, they will end up in ex­actly the same place as their Bordeaux coun­ter­parts – ask­ing for prices that the mar­ket sim­ply doesn’t want to bear.

The risk of that be­comes ever higher as the choice of in­ter­na­tional wines con­tin­ues to mul­ti­ply. And if it does, the né­go­ciants may find that they are asked to carry the can – at which point they will have moved out of the fry­ing pan, and into the fire.

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