En Primeur, or ‘wine futures’, is a widely-established feature on France’s wine landscape. Chateaux taking part in this annual event offer customers the opportunity to invest in a vintage before the wine is bottled, thus giving guaranteed access to limited vintages and (what is usually) a timely investment. Historically focused around Bordeaux, the En Primeur system has also been adopted by producers in Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and Port, with some New World regions showing increasing interest in recent times.
How old is the En Primeur system?
Evidence of En Primeur-like wine-buying systems dates back thousands of years. There’s a record of a vintage from 58 AD being so exquisite, for example, that every grape from the vineyard in question was bought while it was still on the vine.
However, the system that we know today came to life after the Second World War, when many chateaux were poorly run and poorly financed. Merchants – who in those days were far more powerful and dynamic than even the most prestigious First Growths – agreed to buy wines from the top producers in advance. This provided much-needed cash relief to struggling chateaux, and allowed merchants to set their own prices. Learn more about the history of En Primeur.
Today, En Primeur sales are limited to the most esteemed chateaux – many of which boast Grand Cru Classe or similar status. This accounts for around 200 labels.
What happens during En Primeur?
Traditionally, ‘En Primeur week’ takes part over one or two weeks in late March, and sees thousands of negociants, merchants, journalists, retailers and other industry pros converge on Bordeaux’s top chateaux to taste the young wines that have been harvested the previous autumn.
It’s an action-packed period with lots of events and tastings taking place around the region, with critics ultimately imparting their opinion of each wine in the form of a score, which will help determine the prices subsequently set by each chateaux. These prices are then individually released over a few weeks in early summer, usually within two months of En Primeur week.
Buyers that then purchase the wines are doing so ‘En Primeur’ – they are essentially ‘pre-booking’ particular wines. The wines are bought while they are still in barrel, and before they are put into bottles and released onto the market. En Primeur wines are sold exclusive of Duty and VAT, and are shipped to the buyer between 18 months and three years after bottling.
What are the benefits of buying En Primeur?
Buying wine En Primeur offers a number of advantages and opportunities.
- There are considerable discounts available, with many wines on offer well below the eventual market release price.
- Buying En Primeur allows collectors and investors to reserve a case of wine where availability may usually be limited. Many wines that chateaux release En Primeur might not be available to buy when they are released some years later, or are far more expensive. As such, you have the opportunity to secure an allocation of a potentially rare, highly sought-after wine, which may be produced in very small quantities.
- Depending on what the chateaux is offering, you may be able to specify the format of the wine – halves, magnums or even larger bottles – which would not subsequently be available with general release.
- Buying wine En Primeur guarantees the very best provenance of the wine, since you are buying it direct from the winery.
How has COVID-19 affected En Primeur week?
Bordeaux’s En Primeur week is traditionally held in March, and sees up to 6,000 visitors travel to the area for events and tastings. Last year’s event, however, was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, and was instead transformed into a remote affair, with samples being sent to critics and tastings taking place online.
The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB), the historic organiser of En Primeur week, had announced plans for a programme of events in Bordeaux and nine other major cities: Zurich, Shanghai, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Paris, London, New York and San Francisco. However, COVID-19 restrictions have already forced the cancellation of the London and New York in-person events. There is still hope some of the other live tastings can go ahead, but it is unclear how many people will be allowed or able to travel. Like last year, the UGCB’s flexibility will be on display, and it is likely mailed samples and virtual tastings will make up a significant part of this year’s campaign again.
Following this schedule, pricing should be announced and sales should start at some stage in May, continuing until the middle or end of June.
What’s the outlook for Bordeaux 2020?
Despite the global pandemic, fine wine has held firm as a lucrative investment option. Indeed, the uncertainty around coronavirus has only served to magnify its benefits as an asset class. Reports have compared the weather of the 2020 vintage to that of 2016, 2018 and 2019 – mild and wet in the spring, followed be a hot, dry summer and an even more clement picking season. As such, it’s set to be a high quality vintage, meaning this will certainly be a key opportunity for investors.