The Story of Bordeaux En Primeur and Cult Wines
We speak with our CEO and co-founder Tom Gearing whilst he reflects on the journey that took Cult Wines from it's infancy to becoming one of the largest buyers of Bordeaux En Primeur (EP).
Scroll to the end to read his top tips for visiting Bordeaux and favourite memories of En Primeur.
How things began
In the spring of 2010, Cult Wines received an invitation from Duclot, a small negociant, to attend a tasting of Bordeaux 2009 barrel samples...
Luckily, 2009 was an exquisite vintage for Bordeaux – ripe grapes resulted in highly concentrated, beautifully balanced wines. Labelled as a “modern classic”, the 2009 vintage served as a good introduction to EP wines.
With the exceptional quality of the 2009 wines on our side we offered the iconic vintage to our clients, quickly establishing a significant investment opportunity.
Tom recognised early on that the En Primeur season could also provide us with the opportunity to expand ties with producers and negociants alike. These relationships with Bordeaux insiders - critical for a young company like Cult Wines - allowed us to begin to establish ourselves in this century-old system.
“Alistair Burke from Samazeuilh helped us to secure our first visits to some of the most iconic chateaux in Bordeaux, such as Mouton and many first growths on the right bank,” Tom says. “I also want to thank Pierre-Eric Sabatier from Mestrezat and Pierre Lawton from Alias for opening the doors for us. Of course, everything would have been very different had Duclot not sent us the EP invite in the first place.”
When others are fearful - be brave
Gaining allocations from the most sought-after chateaux has never been easy for new players in EP. To begin with, we struggled to stand out against the more established elite.
By visiting the producers and negociants regularly - proving our enthusiasm and expertise - very soon we managed to secure more allocations and our relationship with En Primeur only improved from there.
In 2013, which was arguably the worst vintage since 1991 - things changed for us. Heightened release prices from 2000s onwards meant many large UK merchants decided to buy less EP in the 2013 campaign.
Sensing the opportunity, Tom and the team went bullish - whilst carefully selecting wines based on their quality and scores.
“In 2013 Cult Wines’ allocation went up significantly. It was the first time that we bought over one million sterling of Bordeaux EP. Everything went uphill from there.”
When looking back on successful entry into the Bordeaux EP system, Tom pointed to our strong belief in Bordeaux and fine wine as a thrilling investment opportunity - the two things that distinguished us from our competitors.
“The key was consistency, always being there and always supporting the EP system; being reliable,” Tom concludes.
Bordeaux EP becomes a global event
Tasting En Primeur is one of the key annual events for the wine industry with professionals gathering from all over the world in the beautiful region of Bordeaux.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the 2020 and 2021 tastings, but, according to Tom, it is not all bad.
"Of course, nothing beats being in Bordeaux, talking to the winemakers, experiencing the result of their work first hand, immersing oneself in the fine wine culture. But there was always a slight downside to real-life tastings – time."
During Bordeaux's En Primeur season, it's normal for buyers to fit as many tastings as possible in the limited time they have available - leading to overcrowded schedules. Going to as many as eight appointments a day across a sub-region can certainly take it out of you!
However, when the pandemic hit, the EP campaign moved from the chateaux to people’s homes. Having more time to taste at an individual pace over these last two years, it has become easier for tasters to stay objective whilst considering each wine properly.
More than that, Bordeaux’s incredible efforts to send samples across the globe for the second year in a row shrank the distance between EP, merchants, the importers and wine lovers. Making the occasion a truly a global effort.
“Chateaux are now more willing to embrace virtual tastings in addition to in-person tastings in Bordeaux,” Tom said, “This will help them continue broadening their reach in the world.”
Some top tips from Tom’s on Bordeaux
The must-visit chateau
‘I simply cannot choose one. So you will have to bear with me. Pétrus because of how special it is. Then there is Cheval Blanc because of the stellar cellar and winery. Le Mission Haut-Brion always makes me feel like I am on a Game of Thrones set; it’s simply historic. Angelus for their great food. Latour because you know you won’t be able to buy any wine en primeur but you can always get previews of how great their new wines will be in 10 years.’
Must-do in Bordeaux when going back to normality
‘Eat at L'Univerre. It’s a spot that no wine lover should miss. Food is classic French, the wine list is unbelievable, and the atmosphere is simply incomparable. And there was always wine sharing between tables.’
Favourite Mouton label
‘There are three. The 2000 golden Mouton will always stand out. The original 1924 one will always have a place in my heart. The latest 2018 label speaks to a sense of aesthetics.’
Most memorable Bordeaux of all time
‘Pétrus 1961 magnum is simply the best Bordeaux I have ever had.’
Favourite from Bordeaux 2020 EP so far
‘Smith Haut Lafitte white, Carllion of Angélus is extraordinary as a second wine. Valandraud is tasting impressive. From the left bank, Pichon Baron stood out.’
Keen to learn more?
To find out more about Bordeaux En Primeur 2020 you can follow our ongoing campaign content, with some top picks below:
For analysis on regions and pricing, see our full investment report on 2020 Bordeaux EP
To follow release information live and our verdicts, see our Twitter thread on new Bordeaux EP releases
This release table provides a comprehensive look to compare and contrast scores and prices of wines that we deem investment-grade
Follow us on Instagram for fun content on the wines we love and the great people that we work with!