British consumers are turning their backs on Bordeaux after losing faith in both producers in the region and the en primeur system, according to two key fine wine merchants.
Speaking at a debate on the relevance of the en primeur system at the London Wine Fair at Olympia this week, Tom Hudson, a director at Farr Vintners, said: “We made £165 million with the 2009 en primeur campaign and have made just £1.3m so far with the 2013 campaign.
“Regular en primeur buyers in the UK have deserted the market completely as it doesn’t make sense any more for them to buy en primeur.
“Take a popular Bordeaux chateau like Leoville Barton, you used to almost have to inherit a case such was the demand. This year we’ve only sold three cases of the 2013 vintage.
Farr Vintners only sold three cases of Leoville Barton 2013
“People have walked away from en primeur because they are able to buy the wines cheaper down the line, which is killing the system. There needs to be a more realistic approach to pricing.
“A lot of goodwill towards Bordeaux has been lost by the public in the last few years.
“The 2009 and 2010 vintages were wonderful anomalies, but consumers want to see prices corrected to 2008 levels, which hasn’t happened yet and needs to happen in order for the system to start working again.”
Max Lalondrelle, Bordeaux buyer for Berry Bros & Rudd, echoed Hudson’s sentiments during the debate.
“Consumers are turning their backs on Bordeaux in favour of Spain, Italy and the Rhone. Bordeaux has become a bit like London property prices, which leaves you asking the question, who exactly is buying these wines?” he questioned.
“In 1974, Bordeaux accounted for 80% of Berry Bros’ profits. Today it accounts for just 11% – people have moved on as there are plenty more wines from other parts of the world available at the same quality level and a more affordable price,” he added.
During the debate, Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal revealed an alarming statistic about the extent of the losses buyers of recent en primeur releases of the five first growths would face if they tried to sell their wines today.
“If you had bought a case of 2009, 2010 and 2011 of each of the five first growths at their original en primeur release price and sold them last Friday, according to Liv-ex you would have lost £35,000,” he said.
“The 2013 campaign was a chance for Bordeaux pricing to be corrected and it didn’t happen,” he added.
Christian Seely of Château Pichon Baron believes Bordeaux still produces the best wines in the world
Wine writer Tim Atkin MW, who chaired the debate, said a “paradigm shift” had taken place and Bordeaux no longer ruled the roost in terms of being the epicentre of fine wine.
“The world has moved on from Bordeaux and we’re living in a new reality. World class wine is made in all corners of the globe now,” he said.
Though Christian Seely of Pichon Baron was quick to leap to Bordeaux’s defence. “I believe Bordeaux makes the greatest wines in the world, and I say that taking my projects in the Douro into account,” he said.
Seely was also honest about the fact that he was unlikely to lower his prices next year if the quality of 2014 eclipses that of 2013.
“If the 2014 vintage is better than 2013 then the price of Pichon Baron absolutely won’t be cheaper,” he said.
He also played down rumours that a number of negociants are struggling under the strain of excess stock, with some thought to be on the brink of bankruptcy.
“Chateaux don’t hold a gun to negociants’ heads and force them to buy wine. We’re a negociant and we’re doing alright despite the fact that there was very little demand for en primeur wines this year from individual buyers,” he said.
“I’m relaxed about the situation as I’m confident about the quality of the wines I did buy. We had to be very selective and buy the wines that were selling at the right price,” he added.