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Analysis: Are the wheels coming off the en primeur campaign?

We’re into week four of the “make-or-break” Bordeaux en primeur campaign, with plenty of estates’ wine now having released their 2023 vintages. But has the campaign heeded the early warnings and done what the market demanded? db investigates.

bordeaux wine week

The warnings were there: we need at least a 30% reduction on last year’s prices to ‘save’ en primeur, a report from Wine Lister said; the system is at breaking point, will 35% be enough to recalibrate? The biggest things demanded were big names, releasing early with big decreases.

And in the first week, things looked good. Leoville Las-Cases opened the bidding with a 40% reduction on the 2022 opener, swiftly followed by Lafite Rothschild with a 31.7% discount – marking its lowest priced vintage on the market –  with a few others also hitting the magical 30% reduction or more, including Mouton Rothchild with 37%, Lynch-Bages with 31.8% and Haut-Brion with 39.5%.

So far, so good – and there’s no doubt that these were notable successes.

“You have to give a nod to Lafite,” Joe Muller, associate director and head of monopole at Corney & Barrow says. “It set the right message.”

The Leoville Las-Cases, which was below the price of the 2019, sold “a decent amount”, and the Lynches-Bages had done “exceptionally well.

“It came in as the least expensive in the market – a classic Pauillac with concentration and surprising freshness, a big, but refined wine,” he said.

It is undoubtedly a vintage of quality and one that buyers want to have in their cellar. “The wines from ‘23 are not ones you want to miss”, Muller notes – but given the fragility of the market over the last 10-12 months, even when there’s a significant drop in price, buyers are focusing on “the must-haves and those that provide a compelling reason to buy”.

New strategy

In the run-up to the campaign, Corney & Barrow adopted a new strategy to give customers the opportunity to pre-order if the price fell between a pre-established range that offered fair value, he said. This was kept deliberately narrow, and took into account release price and subsequent market prices of recent back vintages where the pattern of the chateaux had been since 2019 and consequently “where we thought they should fit in”.

“About 50-60 have fallen within the recommended price, so those customers have ordered and will be happy, but a lot have fallen short,” Muller explained.

For every release with a 30%+ decrease, there was one that came in below that figure, hovering in the mid-twenties or below.

“Many saw the pricing find its feet below the 2022 and 2018 vintages, at around the level of the 2014 and 2017, but the 2023 is better quality than those so it should sit higher,” Muller explains.

So while the reductions “on paper” were significant”, Muller argued many of these didn’t take into account the rises in the release price that happened between 2019-2022, or the current value of physical vintages already on the market.

“I  would have preferred further sensitives around pricing, especially where wines are on the secondary market at the moment, and with the market still soft,” Muller explained. The fear is that if people do buy them, will they depreciate?

For example, despite a 38.7% decrease on last year’s price for Chateau Issan, it remained the most expensive on the market. Similarly Chateau Pape-Clement 2023 , which only decreased by 6.7%.

“The main problem is that the Bordelais don’t take this into account – and the merchants and the consumer does,” Muller said.  “Overall, there have been some real wins, but a little bit of delusion too.”


Meanwhile the pace of the campaign is also important – the overwhelming  desire for a quicker, more concise campaign was communicated to negociants, chateaux owners and producers, and the early release of Lafite helped to “fan the flames” and resulted in good activity levels, Muller said, despite the disruption caused by the number of public holidays in France and the UK. These were on 1 , 6, 8 and 17 May with another on 27 May, followed immediately by Vinexpo Asia which is likely to cause another pause until 3 June.

Muller says he would have preferred some bigger names coming this week: “We may have some unknowns coming into play, which is not unheard of for some of the renowned estates”, he explained, to avoid the situation that happened last year, when the pricing post-Vinexpo “became absurd”.

“People are worried this will happen… no one wants the campaign to drag on.”

Crucially, is this the campaign that was wanted and needed?

“We’re not quite at that level yet,” Muller concludes. “They have shown some grace towards it – and the next half of the campaign could prove pivotal.”



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