Bordeaux en primeur 2019 - Looking back
Bordeaux en primeur (EP) 2019 is known as a campaign of much-welcomed discounts. The average release price of the 300 plus wines on Cult Wines’ target list for investment was 20% lower than that of the previous year.
Noting the gradually declining rate of return of past Bordeaux EP wines and the ever-increasing inventory time for some negociants, the Economist applauded the region’s choice of lowering release prices as a system reset to “avert another glut.”
Cult Wines have been offering Bordeaux EP to our clients since the 2013 vintage. Thanks to its outstanding quality and great pricing, the 2019 EP was one of our most successful campaigns despite the global lockdown due to COVID-19.
More than the great prices, the 2019 campaign showed us the strength and tenacity of Bordeaux and the people that work to deliver the region’s fine wine to the rest of the world.
Against all odds
The 2020 lockdown came as a shock to most, including the Bordelais. In fact, the pandemic hit Bordeaux during a challenging period.
Long before the lockdown, Bordeaux has been slowly losing market share. According to Liv-ex, the merchant-led fine wine exchange, the region’s share of trade by value has more than halved from 96% to just above 41% between 2010 and 2020.
Sure, the size of the pie has increased for the global fine wine market. But, the demand for Bordeaux simply was not growing as fast as Burgundy, Champagne or Italy.
There were more recent challenges for Bordeaux, too. US tariffs reduced Bordeaux’s share of US fine wine buying by 15%, while the ongoing civil unrest in Hong Kong significantly impacted the appetite and buying power of Bordeaux lovers in greater China.
More importantly, there was a consensus in the trade that a year-on-year 10% increase of EP pricing would put even the most committed buyers to the test.
At the end of March 2020, when it became clear that holding in-person tastings was not an option for EP 2019, several industry insiders called for a change: either delay the campaign to spring 2021 or cancel it altogether.
Then, against all odds, major wine critics like James Suckling and Vinous’ Antonio Galloni started posting pictures of the 2019 wine samples directly dispatched from Bordeaux around mid-April.
Like all of us, the producers, courtiers and negociants of Bordeaux had to adapt. They very quickly discovered the art of remote working, and that tasting, explaining and scoring could all be done over the internet.
After all, if any region could have pulled through and orchestrated a campaign releasing over 1,000 wines, it had to be Bordeaux, a region founded in and moulded by international commerce.
A breath of fresh air
As Jancis Robinson once wrote, Bordeaux EP has over the years become somewhat repetitive. The events, tasting notes, and releases are done more or less in the same fashion every year between April and June, with pricing being perhaps the only major point of differentiation.
The 2019 campaign was different. With the pandemic as its backdrop, EP 2019 provided some much-needed spectacle and positivity to wine lovers around the world.
In a way, because of its uncertainties and opaqueness, Bordeaux EP 2019 had an intriguing mystique about it. The campaign reinstated some of the genuine excitement that Bordeaux EP once commanded.
Cult Wines’ executive director Aarash Ghatineh remembered the day that the 2019 campaign officially started: “Every year, one of the major chateaus would come out early and that signals the beginning of EP that year. For 2019, Pontet Canet released with a 31% discount from last year’s price, setting the tone for that campaign. It was the afternoon of Friday, 28 May, a gorgeous day in London. Soon after Pontet Canet unveiled its 2019 price, Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown released her Bordeaux EP scores and gave Pontet Canet 98 points. It was a day of perfection, a fitting start to a successful EP campaign.”
EP 2019 maintained this positive momentum. It seemed as if the top producers were in a race to see who could give the biggest concession: Palmer reduced by 33%, Figeac 31%, and Haut Brion 31%.
Mouton Rothschild 2019 EP release was a highlight for Joe Alim, who heads Cult Wines activities in Greater China: “Mouton’s came out at a whopping 31% discount. It was not only a highlight of the 2019 EP but one of the most compelling events for the last 10 EP campaigns. It showed that Bordeaux was listening and willing to engage and adapt. After all, Bordeaux EP is never just about Bordeaux. A good Bordeaux EP campaign benefits all wine regions as it focuses minds and brings optimism to the industry.”
With some of the top chateaux released at such accessible prices, Bordeaux EP 2019 was doubtlessly a year to buy super premium fine wines.
Although many producers held back more stock to release later when they could fetch higher prices, some of the major buyers of Bordeaux EP still managed to get sufficient allocation. Fortunately, Cult Wines was one of them.
With the 2020 campaign about to start in a few weeks, Cult Wines are expecting this year’s pricing to jump slightly. The company’s CEO, Tom Gearing, thinks there could be a 5-20% average increase from 2019.
“Strong but fragile,” said Joe Alim, “that is the market sentiment towards Bordeaux at the moment -- like how we feel about everything else, the economy, the vaccines and going back to work.”
Being by far the largest region by volume and value of trade in the fine wine market, Bordeaux has the ability to attract newcomers to the world of fine wine and set the tone for all regions.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bordeaux demonstrated through EP 2019 that this historic and iconic fine wine region was more than willing and capable of adapting to any difficult situation.
This year, as the world is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Bordeaux will lead a renaissance for fine wine as the hospitality and tourism industries are preparing for a long-awaited reopening. All eyes are on the release information from Bordeaux.