One word to describe the Bordeaux 2011 En Primeur campaign: shambolic.
Some more words: gross mismanagement. Short sighted. No vision or direction. No timing. No respect whatsoever for the merchants and more importantly, the consumer. An absolute shambles.
Who’s to blame? The Chateaux for not listening? The courtiers (the guys who are the go between Chateaux and French Negociants) for not being able to make a market, which is what they are supposed to do and are handsomely paid for?
Probably both. Matter of the fact is that, whilst there was a chance that Bordeaux 2011 would sell, that hope is now all gone. Consumers have switched off. The merchants can’t keep up with the deluge of “we don’t care what you say, we will release all at the same time anyway” releases. Even very well priced releases are lost in the now prevailing mood of disinterest.
For example, yesterday saw some brilliant wines released with both Pichons, Clos Fourtet, the very well-priced Petit Mouton, Leoville Poyferre and Leoville Barton to name a few. The result? Zilch. No cases sold. None.
Prices have not been too bad, but with a few exceptions, they have not been good enough. This however is not the sole reason this campaign has failed miserably. The main reason, as we see it, is the speed with which the campaign has been conducted, and the frustration that has caused with merchants and consumers alike.
Before the campaign started, we heard all of Bordeaux saying: “yes we have listened and yes we will release quickly.” Then Lafite came out. Quickly, pre-Parker and at a good price. Very well done, a good buy and sending the right message. Then, nothing, until Cos d’Estournel, which was a disaster both with pricing and the efforts to defend that price. Then nothing again, for days. Then Pontet Canet, who got it right. Then nothing again, for days. And then, all of a sudden, as if bitten by a venomous snake, an avalanche of releases. So much so that nobody could handle it. To the point where one of the very biggest UK merchants asked Negociants to stop sending them offers because they couldn’t give them the attention they deserved…
That says something. But did it change anything? No. The very next working day saw another 20 or so Chateaux release.
And that’s where the real problem lies. It’s not the price per se. It’s the disjointedness, the lack of, well, respect, for the people that actually sell the wine. And most of all, for the people that buy the wine. How on earth can you expect the average consumer to keep his interest when he receives 40 offers a day, without a proper recommendation from his merchant? You can’t, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. The whole wine trade has been begging Bordeaux to pace itself and to price well. The result: even more releases at, generally speaking, prices which are not interesting enough.
It’s left the entire trade and our customers with a massive hangover. We’re left thinking “why?” How can anybody think this is the right way to go about selling their wine? A wine that Chateaux owners have spent so much effort on, for a whole year, with so much passion and pride, only to be adulterated in a 30 second phone call to the courtier. Why?!
We honestly do not understand. We – and we are not alone in this – just can’t understand why, if you want to sell your wine, you would go about it in such a shambolic way. Your wine deserves better than that.
The way en primeur is sold
The only explanation we can think of is the way that Chateaux owners sell their en primeur wine. Meaning that there is no real “market place.” It’s not like gauging demand and setting prices accordingly. Or consulting customers on how best to sell your latest product, including the timing of it. We understand that there are a lot of Chateaux and it must be challenging to get the timing right. Or is it? It would be in an open market. But this isn’t an open market. This is a market where 200 Chateaux talk to 20 courtiers who talk to 200 Negociants. Max. Far less if you focus on the big players alone. Surely it can’t be too difficult to manage releases – both in timing and in price – in such a way that customers actually have a chance to be interested?
One can’t escape the feeling that the Chateaux just don’t care, because they will sell it anyway. Or rather, force feed it into the Negociants, who will have to buy for fear of losing their allocations. A harsh conclusion, but difficult to escape.
En primeur in the future
This might work for a while, but it’s not sustainable. The system where Negociants will buy regardless, postpones reality and will dilute the impact of real demand, but it only goes so far. In the end, you can’t escape the reality of supply and demand. In the end, it’s all about the consumer. Consumers can’t be held to ransom or coerced into buying something that doesn’t have merit in itself. As a private buyer, the opportunity to keep one’s allocation of a great wine only holds value if: a) it always comes at a good price, now and in the future, b) it won’t be available at the same price later on and c) it’s a wine that you would love to drink.
Even more importantly, the real danger here is the public perception of Bordeaux. Extremely cynical campaigns like this one, on the back of the hugely expensive 2009 and 2010 campaigns, run a risk of consumers turning their back on Bordeaux. Reluctantly, but they will. Nobody wants to feel as if they’ve been taken for a ride. Treated without respect. Force-fed.
To the Bordeaux Chateaux owners and to the Courtiers: the public, the people that actually like to drink Bordeaux, don’t need to buy your wines. They would love to, but, believe it or not, they have many, many other options to spend their money on and merchants around the world are very happy to point out these opportunities. You have now seen that the Chinese market, as promising as it seemed to be, is not the promised land of anything goes. If you’re not careful, other more established markets will follow suit.
You can shoot the messenger but somebody in the trade has to say it. If you decide to slash our allocations for telling it as it is, so be it. If on the other hand you think there is merit in what we say, then please reconsider the way you’re selling your great wines. Please do make sure you don’t lose your loyal customers that love to buy their favorite Bordeaux En Primeur.