Sentiments run strong on the 2022 vintage in Bordeaux, and they are generally positive. But buying En Primeur has changed drastically in the last 10 to 15 years, and this year’s En Primeur market has proven “difficult,” according to one importer who asked not to be named on the record. There’s been “a lot of diversity in results based on how the châteaux priced the wines,” says another importer.
I spoke to several experts to get their take on the 2022 wines, how they’re faring in the market and what smart buyers should be looking for. Here’s what they say.
Territory Manager – Americas, Liv-Ex
Liv-Ex is a membership-based, global exchange for wine.
- Bordeaux holds the wine world captive during En Primeur. But, you’re either in or you’re out, as a business. The amount of money and resources required are extensive—travel, taking your team, tasting, entertaining private clients, team training, time to sell to clients, gambling on exchange rates, etc. Once you commit, you’re locked into making it work, however low the margins are. This is the greatest distribution system known to man in wine when it works.
- The initial reaction to the 2022 vintage was the classic Bordelais marketing machine. ‘It was a great vintage because we knew it would be.’ With that as the starting point, everyone was happy to get behind En Primeur at the start.
- However, in 2022, the prices haven’t always enticed people to buy. Historically, the wines would sell through to the private customer. This year that hasn’t happened. Maybe five or six wines sold through properly. The 2022s look high versus the stock that’s in the market. Prices were up 20-50% for some properties—one just because they had a new letter added to their label [Figeac].
- Plus, if a château priced its 2021 incorrectly, it doubled down with higher 2022 prices. In general, sales volumes are down versus 2021, which is a lesser vintage. This process doesn’t serve to increase the value of your brand unless you get the pricing right.
- En Primeur has changed substantially over the last 20 years. Ever since Latour withdrew, every château has been reducing its En Primeur allocations to La Place.
- With these changes, everyone—even the négociants—are taking brokerage angles. Money isn’t virtually free any longer, so people don’t want to take on stock. Plus, the négoces now are charging higher interest rates or not lending at all. The game used to be to take on allocations and not be left holding the bag. In a hot market, the châteaux release their wines in tranches during specific windows. You take it or you don’t. Châteaux could sell their whole production in three or four hours.
- Liv-Ex is the secondary market. When people have to take allocations, they might come to us as a market that enables them to sell anonymously. The activity we see is reflective of the general market mood. Still, the attempts at resells aren’t working for the 2022s. There is lots of stock in the market. There are many avenues for people to buy.
- Why would I put down my money now for wines I won’t receive until 2025 when I could buy 2016, 2019, 2020 or other vintages and take possession now? Sure, there’s the perfect provenance angle, but I could go with “near perfect” by buying from a merchant that stores professionally. Sure, there will always be customers who buy En Primeur. Those are the easy sells. That’s just not most of the market.
- Cheval was received well. They got their price right and have for the last five years. Beychevelle and Carruades were well received in part because they have a history of releasing at a good En Primeur level; then as soon as the wine is physical, prices jump 20-30%. Léoville-Las Cases has those well-publicized, double-digit potential, 100-point scores. Branaire-Ducru, Carmes, Canon all made excellent wines and have been doing so for the last five, six, seven years. They got their pricing right, too.
Guillaume Clarke de Dromantin
Export Director – Americas, Compagnie Médocaine
Compagnie Médocaine is a Bordeaux-based négociant.
- At first, we were expecting a lot from this campaign. We’ve got an extraordinary vintage unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. There is amazing concentration, ripeness and richness yet still freshness. It is very much a style of vintage that American customers will like.
- In the end, we’ve run an okay campaign. It wasn’t at the level of 2009 or 2016 [which were highly successful]. Every château’s reception was different.
- There are many reasons, but the price increases were definitely a factor. On average, prices were up 20%. Plus, there are high interest rates in the U.S., so retailers and distributors were pickier. Thank goodness the exchange rates remain pretty good. A higher rate could have been a disaster.
- There are also lots of young and good vintages like 2018, 2019 and 2020 available in the market, which are still available around their En Primeur prices.
- Another reason En Primeur is having difficulties is that the baby boomer generation loved having cellars. The new generation isn’t into that. They want to buy wine to drink it now. So, the system of Latour [releasing later] really responds to the interests of the customer. Palmer does a 10-year-old release every year, too, and that does very well.
- The best performers were Léoville-Barton, Pichon Baron, Léoville-Las Cases, Château Lafite, Beauséjour-Bécot, Carmes Haut-Brion and Montrose. Sometimes they increased their prices more than others, but they looked at the market and made sure that their En Primeur prices offered investment incentives.
- Importantly, it isn’t the percentage of the price increase. It’s whether the wine is worth it based on what else the consumer can find right now. The wineries have to follow the market, not try to make the market.
- Year after year, there are fewer and fewer wines being purchased En Primeur in the U.S. I started with Compagnie Médocaine in 2010 for the 2009 vintage. We sold all kinds of wines, maybe 100 brands. Now, it’s really only 20 to 30 brands that have En Primeur traction. Plus, today there are really only 15-20 trusted retailers in the U.S. that fully participate in En Primeur. It is very hard for retailers that don’t have the direct connections to the négociants.
Adam Lapierre MW
Chief Operating Officer, Vint
Vint curates portfolios of investment-grade fine wines and rare spirits.
- At Vint, every collection series is its own LLC. We offer people shares in that entity. Shareholders never receive the wines. The collections are sold at an optimal time, sometimes on Liv-Ex, sometimes back to producers, sometimes through other venues. The hold period on investments can range from one to seven years.
- Where is the value in 2022 En Primeur? The châteaux are in a tricky spot because they need to respect the prices of recent campaigns, but also have the challenge of many, recent good vintages. They’re competing with themselves.
- Vint is interested in En Primeur based on the premise that this will be the opportunity to buy at the lowest possible cost. Bordeaux is a bedrock category, even with the rise of some other regions.
- There is less wine on the market now than the En Primeur sold historically. Relative to 2018, 2019, 2020, the 2022 supply is restrained, which is positive for price appreciation. If châteaux hold wine back, that’s good for us. As an example, a few years ago, Lafite pulled back a lot of allocations to négociants to refocus their network. There’s no lack of capital for top producers to add people to manage things.
- When we see a few years of strong quality performance from a producer who is taking their wines to the next level, that’s where we go. Branaire-Ducru is an example. Cheval Blanc is expensive but somewhat logical given the quality, plus the uptake in the market is pretty good. With Les Carmes Haut-Brion, we bought everything we could.
- We bought some dry whites in 2021, but we haven’t purchased sweet wines so far. We have to think about the size of the categories in general and consumer demand for the eventual re-sale.
Grand Maître of the Commanderie de Bordeaux aux États-Unis
The Commanderie is a network of wine lovers with chapters across the USA that is tied closely to the Bordeaux community.
- Open your check books and dig deep for this vintage.
- The Commanderie only buys for its own consumption, not for resale. All of the purchases happen at the individual chapter levels. Generally, the wines are not sold to individual Commandeurs. From time to time there is the accession strategy. Maybe one Commanderie has more 2006 than they need, so they may offer the wines to their members..
- I have a data-oriented bias. The objective data on what happened in the vineyard or the aggregate weather tends to interest people who are buying the wine, but this gets less play with the Bordelais. The weather trends are like 1947 [an excellent vintage].
- In terms of modern vintages, it seems like a 2009 to me. I remember during the 2009 En Primeur campaign I was going to lunch with Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux after we finished tasting. He picked up the 2009 Margaux to bring to the table. ‘Why not? This is ready!’
- The greatest attention goes to reds because they appreciate the most, but most Commanderies buy Pavillon Blanc, Lynch-Bages Blanc and some other top whites. Still, those whites are probably five percent of what’s purchased.
- One of the useful things about buying En Primeur is that Commanderies can specify the format. This is a vintage that is going to be accessible young, but also can be put down for 20 years, so magnums will be popular. A client used to say, ‘A magnum is the perfect size of a bottle for two gentleman, as long as they had a bottle of Champagne before.’
Director of Sales and Marketing, Millésima USA
Millésima is a retail store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
- Everyone should be buying Bordeaux 2022! When I send my En Primeur offer this year, I am sending it to everyone. I’m not making too many selections because I think the 2022s are for everyone.
- Quantities can be a challenge, but we manage it. We buy En Primeur, but I can also just go back to the estates. We will only run out of a few things.
- One of the biggest surprises for me this year was Vieux Château Certain. I have such a big crush on this wine! Of all the wines in the entire campaign, I was so impressed with the freshness.
- Generally, I was really impressed by how Bordeaux is changing in style. People are going back to the roots and the vineyards where you can really feel the people working on the estates. I’m really happy to have a vintage that expresses Bordeaux’s terroir and shows that Bordeaux is adapting to the new climate.
- If you’ve never bought En Primeur, ask lots of questions. Talk to a sales professional about what you drink now and when you want to drink these wines. Are they for your kids? Do you want to own First Growths? Be sure they understand you and be open to their suggestions. They want you to be happy.
- In U.S., Lynch-Bages has always been a big success for us. It offers such a good price relative to the rest of the market. We also sell a lot of Pétrus and all of the first growths. One that is less known but people tend to love when I insist that they try it is Grand-Puy-Lacoste. Such a great wine and a great value!
- We don’t sell much Bordeaux white wine. The Médoc producers are starting to get more blanc customers. For Pessac-Léognan, it is really wine lovers that go for them. They are niche and not always wines bought En Primeur. They tend to be more stock items.
- America is the best market for Sauternes and Barsac. Americans love sweet wine. The big wine lovers buy Yquem. The other sweet wines tend to be discovered randomly by people who then get into the sweet wines.