Quitting en primeur was Latour’s long term plan
François Pinault had always planned for Château Latour to leave the en primeur system according to Jean Garandeau, commercial director at the property.
“It was our long term strategy to quit,” he said, referring to the April announcement that the property’s 2011 vintage would be the last to take part in the futures market.
Speaking during a vertical tasting of the château’s second wine, Les Forts de Latour, at the Palais Coburg’s Fine and Rare Specialist course last month, he also said, “The idea is to be able to make the commercial life of the wines closer to their technical life”.
Explaining further, he remarked, “For example, today we are finishing the 1996 [at the château] and it’s a shame because these are wines people are drinking and we would like to have more.”
Acknowledging criticism of the property for holding back stock over recent vintages, Garandeau said that Latour had been reducing the proportion of wines released en primeur because it wanted “more back vintages in the future”, and not because it was attempting to artificially increase prices.
He also said that the decision to store wines until they were considered “ready to drink” was prompted by an increasing need to protect wine quality.
“The challenge today is to make sure the wine has not travelled three times round the globe before it is sold at your restaurant.
“It might be sold in London, then Hong Kong, then New York, and then drunk back in London, and the wine is suffering – and if the wine is disappointing, the responsibility won’t be with the cellars in between, but with the château.”
As for when Latour might consider its grand vin “ready to drink,” Garandeau said it depended on the vintage.
“We can have the 2007 after seven to eight years, but the 2010 maybe after 12-13 years.”
However, he also said, “In 20 years time the idea is that we will sell 2009 and 2005 Latour because this is the time to drink them and they will be perfectly stored.”
He pointed out that the property has space to hold “almost one million bottles”.
“It is not a revolution,” he said of Latour’s decision, citing the approach of other regions such as Champagne and Montalcino, which hold back stock for extended ageing in bottle.
Further defending Latour’s strategy, he added, “Bordeaux is seen as only looking at the profit line but it is said for Latour that you need to wait 10 years before drinking and yet we sell it before it’s even bottled.”
Garandeau spoke during the Fine & Rare Specialist wine course held at the Palais Coburg, where other speakers included Anthony Hanson MW, senior consultant for wine at Christie’s auction house, which is also owned by François Pinault.
Hanson, discussing the same subject, had previously remarked that Latour was “known for holding back stock,” since Pinault had bought the château in 1993.
He also reminded attendees of the course that Pinault had “disposed of the negociant company that came with Latour – Ulysses Cazabonne, which is now owned by Rauzan-Ségla, part of the Chanel group – because he said he had invested in Bordeaux to make wine, not to trade it.”
As for the impact of Latour’s decision, he stressed the benefit of the en primeur system for bringing a regular cash flow for châteaux owners who have the meet the high annual costs for vineyard treatments and staff, particularly during harvest time.
“They need funds, which is why they sell at a certain price in the year after the harvest, and then they receive payments in chunks – a sum at the end of June, September, December, February and even April.
“So, 18 months after picking, the final payment is made to the château, but it is a regular source of income.”
He then stated, “Those who need the cash will continue to use the en primeur system.”
However, summing up, he said, “Latour’s decsion, I do believe – and this is my opinion – is a revolutionary moment.”
And, finally, explaining its impact on the status quo, he added, “It is a shaking of the kaleidoscope – the patterns are different, but the colours of the same.”
Château Latour average production:
Total 300,000 bottles
Château Latour: 100,000 bottles
Les Forts de Latour: 140,000 bottles
Le Pauillac de Château Latour: 60,000 bottles
From the start of 2000 the property began a stricter selection in the vineyard and at the winery for its Château Latour, which reduced the proportion of wine going into the grand vin from around 50-60% to 30-40%, according to Garandeau.
He also said that there is in fact a fourth wine made at Latour, but it is only “for the staff”, and not labelled.