Now that what seems to have been a very long summer break is over, it’s time to catch up.
The Fine Wine Market
Immediately after the En Primeur campaign finished early July (!), activity dropped right off. July still saw relatively brisk trade, but August was very slow, slower than recent years. Partly due to the trade having had quite enough of the long drawn Bordeaux En Primeur season, partly because of the holiday season, but mostly because of the uncertainty on the financial markets, coming right in the holiday season. There was not much demand and, as some stock holders preferred cash over paper profits, there was a steady stream of supply. As a consequence, prices dropped (more on this to follow). Particularly because First Growths led the way, and because we haven’t seen any monthly price drops for quite some time now, questions were being asked as to whether this could be the correction that has been predicted by many. The high prices of 2010 Bordeaux seemed to further fuel this thought, not unlike boom before bust. Speaking of the 2010 vintage:
The 2010 Bordeaux En Primeur campaign
Was long. Very long. High quality wines, high prices, big ego’s, long waits. We have covered this subject quite a bit on the blog, so for details please check the blog archive. Our opinion is that it was a very badly managed campaign, with basically all players in this market bar the Chateaux feeling hung over, the consequences of which we might well feel in the years to come. Ultimately, the concept of selling future wines needs to work for all parties involved, something which was not the case in the 2010 campaign. A shame really, because quality wise this vintage deserved much better.
What is interesting to cover is whether the 2010 campaign was successful in terms of sales. The answer depends on who you ask. The Chateaux had a bumper year, no doubt. I believe the French Negociants did do ok, although they were faced with a high risk of being left with very expensive stock. Remember, the Negociants pretty much have to take their historical allocation off the Chateaux, so they bear the risk, not the Chateaux. They sold through relatively well, although remaining stock must be higher than in 2009.
Because, overall, consumers were not nearly as excited about 2010 as they were about 2009, it was the “secondary” trade (merchants around the world) that was left holding much more stock than wanted. Or, if not, at the price of reduced future allocations. The consensus seems to be that 2010 sold about 40% of 2009 (which admittedly was an incredibly successful year). Importantly, sales were at a historically very low margin. There was lots of discounting going on, anything to sell the allocations one wanted to keep.
Up until the last 2 weeks of the campaign (until Vinexpo), Ditton Wine Traders were actually up on 2009, by a whopping 60%. Early on in the campaign, there were great wines to be had, at decent prices, something we did much more successfully than in 2009. Over the whole campaign, we sold 20% more different wines than in 2009. The last 2 weeks, when the 1stGrowths and most super seconds were released, were not as successful as 2009 though, resulting in the end in a turnover of 78% as compared to 2009. When compared to most other UK merchants, we did extremely well. Although I don’t think this justifies being occupied with En Primeur Bordeaux for 2 months… Something to think about for 2011.
Fine wine prices
Starting in July and accelerating in August, most prices have come down. As measured by the Liv-ex 100 index, prices have decreased by about 6% in July and August. First growths, as measured by the Liv-ex Investables index, have done slightly worse, printing a fall of 7%. This was mainly caused by Lafite (see Liv-ex article), another major contributor being Parker’s downgrading of 2008.
What has caused this drop in prices? In our humble opinion, 3 main reasons.
Firstly, it seemed a natural moment for people to cash in on the profits they made over the last years. Well before the Primeur campaign, there was already lots of talk about price rises being unsustainable. It’s quite natural that people want to cash in on very handsome profits as they sense that the market might have reached a peak. Consequently, a lot of stock came onto the market.
Secondly, this boost in supply coincided with the holiday season and, importantly, the fact that the international fine wine trade was still holding a lot of stock, bought at cheaper prices. In particular the Chinese traders – we believe – held a lot of stock, bought when prices were going up ferociously. Note though this weak demand does not necessarily have anything to do with demand of the final customer (be it drinkers or investors).
Finally, the timing coincided with a general feeling of uncertainty, generated by another looming recession, continued systemic problems in the EU and resulting, massive falls on the financial markets.
First of all, we have to see this price drop in perspective. During the same period (July-August), the FTSE has lost 10% of its value, the German DAX even 17%. The financial markets have seen turmoil reminiscent of post Lehmann in 2008, with some very fundamental issues that have so far proven to be impossible to solve adequately. Given that Fine Wine is now, to a significant extent, an investment vehicle, it’s actually a remarkable resilient performance. From first hand experience, it’s clear that a lot of money is being swapped out of bonds and shares, into alternative investments like Fine Wine.
Secondly, no market can keep going up. If it would, there would be the mother of all corrections at some point. It is actually very healthy that prices have come off a bit. It allows for a period of consolidation, reflection and normalization. Which ultimately avoids boom/bust scenario’s.
As for demand of the final customer, September sees more activity again. UK investors are once again keen to invest in wine. Our customers in Asia are definitely back to buying, albeit more selectively than early in the year. We don’t see any indication that there could be a fundamental shift in the total level of demand, which – if true – will keep in force the age old adagium that demand outstrips supply.
Stock picking is very important and even more so now that there's a distinct gap in performance between several "classes" of wine. At the moment, there is a trend towards super seconds and "flying fifths" as well as cheaper Grand Cru Classees. It’s no longer anything 1st Growth and their 2nd wines.
As predicted on our blog a few months ago, customers are more aware of value for money. Although, at the same time, the truly iconic wines and vintages keep on doing well (as always).
At the same time, investment money is still flowing in. Wine investment funds and, to a slightly lesser extent, investment brokers make sure their portfolio’s are constituted of at least 50% 1st Growths, in some cases even 100%. These companies need to buy stock, there’s only limited supply, so we expect the current fall in 1st Growth prices to be reversed in the very near future.
On a final note, we do see growing demand from Asia for super Italians, as well as for Burgundy and indeed some New World regions. As this fabulous part of the world gets more acquainted with fine wine, and as prices of their first choice (often most iconic) wines go up and up, it’s natural and healthy that the eye is being cast on other wine regions that make great wine.
Not everything has come down in price. Some wines are actually up (Lynch Bages, Cos Estournel, Montrose, Pontet Canet). La Mission Haut Brion has had an incredible run. There's a lot of coverage on the performance of the "super seconds" and "flying fifths" as well as some of the cheaper GCC. The common factor with these wines and the reason behind their succes is that they are all well known brands, that they have made stunning wines in 2009 and 2010 as well as in some older vintages, and that their prices do not (yet) reflect the quality. We'd be very happy to advise on them, so if that strikes a cord, do get in touch.
Worth an extra mention is that Robert Parker has recently conducted an extensive vertical tasting of Lynch Bages, spanning 1981 – 2010, re-rating the wines accordingly. The market has already reacted, but it's likely that some vintages of what's arguably the strongest brand behind the 1st Growths will continue to do very well. We will cover this in our next blog post.
Finallly, something else to take notice of, is the "Magical 20" as selected by, again, Robert Parker. On November 8, he will conduct a tasting of "estates that produce wines of "first growth quality" although technically not first growths...and because of that are under-valued and very smart acquisitions". This might well have some effect on prices. Here's his list:
1. Ch. Cos D'Estournel,
2. Ch. Pontet Canet,
3. Ch. Pichon Lalande,
4. Ch. Leoville Poyferre,
5. Ch. Leoville Las Cases,
6. Ch. Palmer,
7. Ch. Malescot St.Exupéry,
8. Ch. Pape Clement,
9. Ch. Haut Bailly,
10. Ch. Angelus,
11. Ch. Trotanoy,
12. Ch. La Conseillante,
13. Ch. Pichon Baron,
14. Ch. Lynch-Bages,
15. Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte,
16. Ch. La Fleur-Petrus,
17. Ch. Clos Fourtet,
18. Ch. Rauzan-Ségla,
19. Ch. Brane-Cantenac,
20. Ch. Le Gay
So, enough reason to expect this trend for value to continue. Go for well known, non 1st Growth names with high scores. And don’t forget to stock up on 1st Growths before they go back up again.