Spring in Bordeaux means “En Primeur”. The city is buzzing with an influx of experts, journalists, merchants, enthusiasts…it’s about wine professionals converging to taste and purchase the latest vintage.
“En Primeur” = (wine) futures
En Primeur refers to a system where châteaux (the plural form of château) release a limited quantity of their wine- known as the first tranche– for sale from the barrel the year following harvest, before it is bottled. First tranche buyers get a better price, which helps châteaux fund their next vintage and lessens financial exposure. The price includes all costs up to, and including bottling.
Depending on how the first tranche sells, châteaux may release a second larger tranche and possibly a third. The price may increase with each tranche, but not always, it depends on each individual château.
Generally, critics have already rated, or started rating the wines by the start of the annual campaign. For example, this is what James Suckling, the former Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief of The Wine Spectator says about the Bordeaux 2016 vintage, the wines that are being tasted right now in Bordeaux.
“I can again confirm that it’s an excellent year, producing dynamic and well-structured wines that are fresh and balanced. These wines represent the new renaissance of Bordeaux where harmony, refinement and energy are the new keywords for the region — not raw power and high alcohol. Bordeaux is back.”
- Young barrel samples are tasted and assessed by wine experts, critics, and trade who publish their reports every April for the previous vintage.
- Châteaux work beside their brokers (courtiers) to determine a fixed price for the futures based on quality and the year’s vintage. This usually happens between April and May.
- The wine is released for sale to négociants (merchants) while still in barrel, but before it’s released on the open market.
- Merchants are advised of the price. They can accept, ask for a discount or decline to purchase their allocation. Sometimes it’s requested a merchant buy a château’s second wine to qualify for an allocation of the top wine.
- Once the merchants have confirmed and paid for their allocation, they offer their wines to customers in France and the world.
- The wine remains in the châteaux’ cellars and is usually released and sent in spring or summer two years after purchase.
Most of the top châteaux are the ones selling their wine as futures. Châteaux whose wines aren’t classified growths, but quality and price warrants a futures allocation offer wines in this way too.
Not all châteaux sell this way. Some sell directly to merchants and consumers. It’s interesting to note the famous First Growth estate, Château Latour, ceased offering their wines en primeur with the 2012 vintage. They officially announced they’d hold their wines and offer them for sale when they were ready to drink. But their wines are still sold to the trade through the négociant system.
And off we go to our first event of this season tonight, with more to follow on Twitter and Instagram the next few days.