En Primeur: 2011-2017 reports

2011: Allotted the tough act of following the record breaking 2009 and 2010 vintages – things did not go well.


Charles Sichel, export director of Maison Sichel, has branded aspects of the 2011 en primeurs “messy, bloody and very difficult”.

Speaking to the drinks business, Sichel blamed bad strategy on the part of the châteaux and complete lack of interest from buyers – regardless of price – for the disappointing campaign.

He said that the uneven pace of the releases had caused “exasperation” in both Bordeaux and abroad, particularly the rush last week on what became known as either “Super” or “Black” Tuesday, which he dubbed “quite ridiculous”.

“Timing needs to be more even to give everyone a bit of breathing space,” he added, “and in a vintage like 2011 every château needs time for the merchants to present them to their clients.

“That’s why we released Angludet first. It gave us a 10 day head start and the merchants had all that time to sell our wine. Then Lafite came out but nothing happened and even (Robert) Parker’s scores came out and still nothing happened. Then they all came out at once.

“It was a big mistake on the part of the owners. It caused massive congestion, which meant that a lot of wine which could have been sold went by the wayside.”

This is a point of view echoed by merchants that db spoke to recently.

However, while the châteaux have clearly misjudged the market, Sichel also thought that in many ways it is of little consequence as it is becoming increasingly clear that almost no appetite for 2011 exists at all among buyers.

“After three good campaigns (2008, 2009 and 2010) it is clear that that level of activity is absolutely not sustainable,” he continued.

“Prices have come down by up to 50% in places and it still has not been enough to interest the market.

“I think whatever the prices the market simply wasn’t there.”

What this means for the future is clear to Sichel although he rejects the notion that en primeur is somehow finished.

“It’s just one of those campaigns. En primeur is not broken, it’s cyclical. It’s been here before, although the level of activity in this campaign is at a record low that’s for sure.

“Bordeaux knows what needs to be done to get things back on track. Prices will likely have to come down again next year, although this will be dependent on the state of the market and quality of the wine too of course.”

As the campaign limps towards the finish line, is this a message that will be taken on board?

Mouton Rothschild released this week at €360 p/b, the same price as fellow firsts Margaux and Haut-Brion. Merchants were very sceptical of Mouton finding any success in the market if it tried to emulate its peers and even with a 40% price drop, it remains £1,100 more expensive than its 2001 vintage and has “failed to spark interest” according to Liv-ex.

All eyes must now be on Latour.


The Bordeaux 2011 campaign is the “worst in recent memory” thinks Berry Bros & Rudd’s fine wine buying director, Max Lalondrelle.

Château Lafite

Speaking to the drinks business in the wake of Tuesday’s glut he and other merchants complained that too many wines are overpriced, the market isn’t interested and the whole campaign is a missed opportunity.

Price and value – or the lack of it – have come to dominate this campaign. Mark Bedini of Fine+Rare dubbed it: “The most dismal en primeur campaign in our 19 year history”.

He told db: “There has been a lot of concern over pricing. The intentions have been right but there’s no discount for the buyer. There needs to be an incentive to buy and they’ve missed providing a clear incentive”.

This was a point of view echoed by Gary Boom, founder of Bordeaux Index, who stated that the, “prices have not been keen enough to attract any strong interest”.

Timing has also played its part. Boom added: “Timing has not been great, it’s taken too long and then too much came out at once and everyone has lost interest.”

Corney & Barrow’s private sales associate director Will Hargrove, said that many, “savvy customers are looking back at comparable vintages and if prices are below 2011 then they buy those instead.”

After an incredibly early dash from the starting blocks from Lafite the campaign went very quiet and even once Parker’s scores were released nothing notable happened immediately.

Then on Tuesday 15 May, 43 wines came out practically on top of each other in what was dubbed “Super Tuesday”.

However, far from creating a “feeding frenzy”, said Hargrove, “it went a bit too far, a little bonkers”.

Lalondrelle candidly admitted that he has asked the négociants to remove him from their email lists and that “Super Tuesday” was yet another missed opportunity much like the campaign.

“Yesterday 43 wines released so there was a lot of missed turnover. We picked two and worked on them all day and so missed the opportunity to sell 41.

“I sent an email to the Bordeaux trade yesterday asking them to remove me from their mailing list. I had 2,500 emails in my inbox which is unmanageable.”

The word “apathetic” was used by all to describe buyers’ interest in the campaign.

A horse in the vineyard at Pontet-Canet. This fifth growth has sold well this year

Lalondrelle said that in 2009 BBR had made £115 million in sales, in 2010 a combination of price and quantity knocked it down to £65m and while a target of £30m was set for this year, “I’ll be happy if we make £15m,” he concluded.

2011 is clearly suffering from the years that preceded it. Boom said that 2009, while expensive, justified itself with “fantastic” wines, but “the 2010s were really not great (in price) and people were left nursing some losses and if it’s the same this year then en primeur has to be questioned.”

It seems as if critic Robert Parker’s prediction that the wines would “bomb” has come true.

The news was not all disaster, Hargrove said that: “Where people see value there has been some custom and if you’re looking at wines under £300 a case then a 20% drop is very fair”.

Meanwhile, Pontet Canet, Calon Ségur, Lafite, Margaux and Montrose were all picked out as selling well or being a good buy and Boom even said that Bordeaux Index had sold more Lafite and Margaux than it had last year, while Bedini also said that the first growths were selling well, though without the “razmatazz” of previous years.

Interestingly Boom refused to comment on Pontet Canet (praised by others), saying only that he had sold “20% of what we sold last year”.

The great tragedy is that, unanimously among the merchants, the vintage’s quality has been praised.

“Make no mistake these are beautiful, lovely wines,” said Boom, “but for whatever reason the US critics have not got behind it. We think the wines are much better than their Parker scores but we have to go on these scores with the customers”.

“Quality of the wines is not a problem,” agreed Lalondrelle. “There is a good market for classic vintages in the UK and this is a vintage we could have sold extremely well if the price was correct.”

What this means for next year’s en primeur campaign is interesting and thrown into sharper relief by Latour’s withdrawal next year.

Lalondrelle mooted that if next year’s campaign followed a similar course, “the whole system could be in jeopardy”.

READ MORE: A reappraisal of the 2011 vintage

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