Subskription 2011
Letzte Einträge - Bordeaux Subskription 2011
Donnerstag, 27.03.2009 - Bordeaux 2008
Wenn man sich so die Statements des internationalen Handels durchliest wird klar dass wir alle auch in einer globalisierten Weinwelt leben.

Auf den Schultern der Châteaux und Negociants aus Bordeaux lastet zur Zeit eine schwere Last mit der Entscheidung über die Preise der 2008er Weine. Während der Handel und viele Negociants nur "Ten years After" analog dem 1997er Jahrgang irgendwie noch eine Primeurkampagne gestemmt haben sind die weiteren Kapazitäten für einen weiteren "Flop-Jahrgang" (erst recht nicht in Zeiten einer globalen Rezension) erschöpft.

Selbst mittlere und grössere Negociants sind mit grossen Beständen schwer bis unverkäuflichen 2006er und 2007er Weinen belastet. Dank der Finanzkrise ist der Zugang zu frischem Kapital für viele Händler sicherlich nur schwierig zu bewerkstelligen und ob man aus unternehmerischer Sicht einen schwierig zu verkaufenden Jahrgang, den man lange in den Büchern führen wird, noch zusätzlich mit Zinsbelastungen zu "verteuern" widerspricht eigentlich jeder Vernunft.

Die Stimmen die das Verteilungs-System (Châteaux->Courtier->Negociant->Händler) kritisieren werden immer lauter. Neil Martin vom WineAdvocate meldet sich dieser Tage mit einigen Überlegungen zu Wort die hoffentlich auch in Bordeaux gelesen werden.



En Primeur: A Vintage Damned?


I habitually write a train of consciousness before setting off on my annual sojourn to the carnival known as “en primeur”. There have already been countless column inches devoted to the subject, both from those that know what they are talking about and others rehashing that old “bash the greedy Bordelaise” chestnut. There are threats of “no-shows”, most prominently from Farr Vintners who are one of the major buyers (I should know, I accompanied them on a couple of their trips a decade ago.) Managing-director Stephen Browett e-mailed this morning: “As much as it's important to taste the wines every year, this en primeur campaign is all about prices. To have any chance of selling the wines at all we must return to 2004 pricing. Unfortunately we have had absolutely no indication that the producers are prepared to do this. As we have lost 20% on the exchange rate since this time last year a 20% reduction would mean the same prices as last year. If that is the case we simply won't bother because consumers will absolutely not buy the wines at those prices. If we get a murmur that prices will be seriously down we'll get straight on a plane. Otherwise will taste them later in the year.”

The Wines
But what of the gestating wines themselves? The general consensus is that they are markedly superior to the 2006s and 2007s and having tasting around thirty 2008s already in London, they might be right. Certainly positive sounds have been emanating from those who are less prone to euphemism and false proclamation. One of those is Bill Blatch, whose optimism was met by groans of déjà vu when we convened in Southwold in January. However, Bill is a partisan individual, someone who knows Bordeaux and its meteorological minutiae inside out and his annual weather report always deserves examination.

In a nutshell, for the second year in a row, salvation arrived in the form of an Indian summer on September 13th that lasted until mid-October and plucked the vintage from dire fate. It could not have been any earlier than September 13th because I was traipsing around Bordeaux the week before and those days were pot-marked with torrential downpours and then some sun…and then another spontaneous downpour (see recent Mouton article.) Judging by the sentiment expressed by proprietors that week, if the deluges had continued then rot would have wiped out a vintage already decimated by frost, mildew, millerandage and green harvest – two at the top estates who could afford it. I have not even mentioned the damp squib that was August and early September!

But hey, the adage that “aout fait la mout” has become superannuated. Now, September is à la mode, even if “septembre fait la mout” does not have the same ring to it. It is the way Mother Nature seems to operate these days. Even though an Indian summer means that the vines enjoy less sunlight hours than a bona fide summer in July/August, yields are now reduced to a level that means that energy does not need to be shared amongst so many bunches. That is where your insurance policy of pre-emptive, early season vineyard husbandry pays out its dividend and if you failed to nip ‘n tuck your vineyard…well, you pay the price and that includes a large percentage of châteaux at the lower rungs of the ladder. Moreover, like a schoolboy cramming his homework on the bus to school, a last-minute composition is likely to be less rewarding, more error prone than one that was written at leisure, with time for reflection and improvement. Sure, I will be bombarded with statistics demonstrating how their crops miraculously reached physiological ripeness, but experience has shown me that those when summer months are more clement and the ripening more gradual, then more complex wines reveal themselves in the long-term.

The Market
What of the market, the hallowed en primeur system, the negoçiants, the wine merchants? Is it all going to go “Bear Stearns” or “AIG” on us?

I originally wrote that primeur was standing on the edge of a cliff, contemplating how long it would take to plummet to the ground. But upon consideration, primeur has already stepped off the ledge, but the same thought is running through its mind. It will hit the ground around May or June and only then will it have some idea of its injuries. Let’s hope it is not fatal.

To put in bluntly, the system is screwed. I have been predicting this invidious situation for years, how the Bordelaise have been seduced by short-term profits at the expense of long-term goodwill, ineluctably leading to a volatile economic theatre, a see-sawing of soaring prices in great vintages and tumbleweed drifting across the market when things go awry. I wrote the following on 10th June 2004 in an article entitled “It’s A Rich Man’s World” as the 2003s were being released onto the market: “The pay-back comes when consumers, who resent being reduced to a pawn, lose their faith and loyalty towards their favoured chateaux or indeed Bordeaux as a whole. Once the true loyal customers have been scythed away, who are the people that can afford to pay such prices for a case of wine? Are they the same people that will purchase your wine in a less auspicious vintage; the ones that look beyond points and purchase wine for the love of a style, to seek the character of a less celebrated vintage? No.”

Nobody except people with an ounce of intellect predicted the global crash (which counts out bankers, economists and anyone running a Ponzi scheme) and now the inchoate 2008s will be born to a world of crushing indifference…or a more apt word is “boredom”. Proclamations of great wines will fall on deaf ears, even if they are true. There is unlikely to be any incentive to buy 2008s, although one could say that is a truism of all wines since 2005 with the exception of some over-performing 2006s (e.g. Mouton-Rothschild, a cluster of Pomerols) and Sauternes 2007s (but then again, since when did you retire on the proceeds of that investment?)

En primeur used to be about the consumer offering money up front in order to save a few pennies compared to purchasing later. Most of the time, everybody was quids in; everything was hunky dory. Then around the mid-1990s the speculative aspect came in, the investment funds and so forth. Wines were selected not just upon their intrinsic quality, but upon how much profit they could generate when flipped a couple of years down the line. Nothing wrong with that, but it was the scale that got out of hand. Subsequently, the châteaux witnessed the escalating prices for their wines and understandably wanted a piece of the pie after all, they were the ones who produced the wine and invested in the improvements that made great wines “great” and potentially poor wines “good”.

But there has been a growing feeling of being taken for a ride, where loyalty and good faith counted for nothing. Who cared whether your European importer had faithfully supported you through thick and thin when the emerging markets in the Far East, particularly China, were prepared to pay twice as much? The Bordelaise have manifested their own dilemma: whether to appease the West who are clamouring for price reductions 50% of 2007 and lose face, upsetting punters who shelled out for over-priced 2006s and 2007s (which unfortunately includes the Chinese, who mopped up the West’s cancelled orders). Alternatively they could stay firm, face the storm and pitch their prices high and take the consequences (deadening silence, blank order sheets…similar accusations being thrown at tax-bailed, bonus-rich bankers.)

Yet if the Bordelaise were to realize everyone’s dream: take a hit on the 2008s irrespective of quality, discount those prices sufficiently to make you reconsider investing your dwindling pennies elsewhere, then they could still snatch some kind of pyrrhic victory. Unlike last year, they may have an opportunity to say: the wines are good to great but in return for your loyalty, you can have them at a discount price because we sympathize with the global economic situation. They could have done this for the 2007s, could have done it for the 2006s, but as any banker will tell you, who looks at the long-term horizon these days?

What do I think will happen? Difficult to tell: this is one those primeur campaigns where the machinations of the system and market reaction are potentially more intriguing than the wines themselves. I predict that somebody’s going to jump the gun, maybe make a stand. Jean-Luc Thunevin often comes out early, but it could be one of the savvy bigger names on the Left Bank. Why? Well, they know full well the opprobrium that will be flung at them. But perhaps by laying their cards out on the table early and saying, “we will take the hit” is a tempting strategy insofar that any sacrifice in profit would be compensated by publicity and a knee-jerk reaction from consumers who might take the bait and grab a case before ennui sets in like rigor mortis.

Of course, one critical factor is Bordeaux proprietorship. People say that it does not matter that there are so few family-owned Cru Classé inhabiting the region, although I beg to differ. In this situation, you may see a stark difference between the cash-rich, family owned properties who can lever some flexibility vis-à-vis price and corporate owned properties with shareholders’ expectations to appease. Owners with conglomerate gloom hanging over their shoulders may also have little option but to maintain high prices and hope for the best.

The irony is that the negoçiant system, for all its glaring faults, should be the perfect system for coping with difficult times like these. The fact that the greed of the past has de-railed it ought to provoke self-reflection from the Cru Classé. Perhaps they should learn that demand is more elastic than presupposed, certainly more than say Burgundy where supply is far smaller. Nobody cares what investments were made in the vatroom, how many ‘squillion’ sorting tables were erected; nobody cares about triumph over adversity and dare I say, nobody is going to care what we critics make of the wines. Nobody really cares, at least not now, not until the wines are physically available, hopefully when economies recover. The negoçiants are adept at distributing Bordeaux in tune with ups and downs of economies, a buffer system that for too long has been abused and taken for granted. But even they are at breaking point, unable to soak up any more unsold stock, languishing alongside the 2006s and 2007s. The consequences of châteaux taking their share of margins previously enjoyed down the supply chain by maintaining high release prices has been felt with the paucity of sales over the last two years (that is consumer sales, not negoçiants’). Now is the time to relinquish those margins and return to reality…before it is too late, if not too late already.

See you the other side of primeur…
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