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Parker: Bordeaux primeurs ‘largely dead’

The practice of buying Bordeaux en primeur has lost all its appeal for collectors unless the vintage is exceptional, according to wine critic Robert Parker.

Robert Parker

In an exclusive interview with the drinks business earlier this month – just before Parker announced his decision to stop scoring Bordeaux en primeur – the world’s most influential wine critic said that Bordeaux had destroyed its futures market by overpricing poor vintages, and needed to be held accountable for its approach.

“I think that the en primeurs market – except in a great, great vintage – is largely moribund, it is largely dead, for now,” he stated.

Continuing, he said, “Bordeaux has to have a reckoning soon about their pricing.”

Explaining his comments, he said that classed growth châteaux owners had set release prices so high that there was no longer an advantage in buying the wine before it is bottled.

Looking back over his 37-year career tasting Bordeaux from barrel, he recalled that over 20 years ago collectors benefitted from buying the top labels before the wines were bottled. “You could buy futures of ‘82 in 83 at remarkably fair prices…and by the time the wines came onto the market they were at a higher price, and that continued for 2 to 3, to 4 years,” he said.

However, following this period, he recorded a change in the pricing policy among the top châteaux. “Then they started raising the prices higher and higher, so you were being asked to pay prices for unbottled wines two years before you received them for prices that will essentially be the same as when they came out, and the prices could actually even drop – and we’ve seen this trend for the last 20 years.”

He added that he understood the urge to increase prices in exceptional vintages, but couldn’t see the sense in retaining these high prices in lesser years. “I have always told the Bordelaise that I have no problem if you are going to charge an extraordinary price for a great vintage – we know 2009s, 2005s, 2010s are great – but when you have a so-so vintage, this is when you can really build market share, and they have lost market share,” he remarked.

Indeed, Parker said that Bordeaux had destroyed its market. “They’ve lost consumers and restaurants – you go to an American restaurant now and there is very little Bordeaux on the list,” he recorded.

Blaming the near disappearance of Bordeaux from the US market on recent high pricing of lesser vintages he said, “2011 was a mediocre vintage that was overpriced, 2012 was a little bit better vintage that was still overpriced, 2013 was generally a poor vintage that was overpriced, and now we have 2014, and I think they [the Bordelaise] recognise that they have a backlog of unsold Bordeaux, and that people aren’t speculating in Bordeaux, and that the Chinese are out of the market in terms of speculation.”

Furthermore, he expressed his frustration that the Bordelaise had chosen to ignore his advice to bring down release prices in poor vintages.

“There are so many people that I know well, that I consider professionals acquaintances, that I have enormous respect and admiration for what they achieve in the vineyards and wineries, and yet when they come to pricing their wine they totally ignore me.”

Continuing, he said, “They certainly recognise that here is a person who travels the world, and understands the Chinese market, the Japanese market, the Korean market, the European market, the American market, that here is a person who has a perspective that has been gained through 37 years, and yet you dismiss that because you don’t want to sell your wine at a few euros less, or half a euro less than your neighbour? That doesn’t make sense, but they’ve been doing it, and the chickens are going to come to roost unless they really drop prices in 2014.”

And when Parker was asked by db how much he believed prices should fall, he said that interest in buying Bordeaux en primeur would only be “rekindled” if “prices dropped 20-30% across the board.”

Parker’s sentiments are similar to those of the UK wine merchants, who recently penned a letter to the Bordeaux trade requesting a lowering of en primeur prices to 2008 levels, although the châteaux are laughing at the idea that this year’s en primeur campaign will see prices close to 2008, according to Bordeaux wine critic Jean-Marc Quarin, who is based in the region.

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