Wine Words: En Primeur

Wine Words: En Primeur

En Primeur is an April wine word that essentially refers to how the new vintage of Bordeaux is traded. Do you know what it means?

For the most part the new vintage of Bordeaux wine is always sold 'en primeur.' This essentially means that the wines are sold the spring following the vintage, while they are still maturing in barrel, which is about two years before they will be bottled and released from the Chateaux. Basically the wines are being sold as 'futures.'

Every year in April, the 'en primeur' campaign kicks off in Bordeaux. Hundreds of wine merchants and critics from all over the world descend on the city of Bordeaux to taste, rate and buy as futures, the new wines. The 'en primeur' campaign for the 2012 vintage is currently in full swing in Bordeaux.

The 'Place de Bordeaux' – Where It All Happens

The selling of Bordeaux wine is complex. Unlike most other wine regions, the Bordeaux Chateaux typically do not sell directly to the merchants. Rather they have a long tradition of selling through négociants, located in 'La Place de Bordeaux.'

During en primeur the wines are tasted and based on a combination of the quality of the vintage and the 'mood' of the market, the Chateaux release their 'en primeur' prices and hope that the négociants will buy the wines.

The négociants who buy the wines, in turn sell 'en primeur' to the merchants, who in turn (especially when it is a good vintage) try to sell 'en primeur' to the end consumer. Two years later, when the wines are bottled and released they make their way through the channel to the 'en primeur' customers.

As the end consumer, does not get to taste the wines, they rely heavily on the recommendations of the critics during 'en primeur' campaign. Over the past thirty years Robert Parker has singlehandedly been the most influential critic on Bordeaux 'en primeur' prices.

The Benefits, Or Not, of En Primeur

The 'en primeur' system is supposed to create to a win-win situation for everyone involved.  For the seller – i.e. the Chateaux, they receive payment upfront during the campaign. This helps cash flow significantly, rather than having to wait until 2015 to sell their wines.

For everyone else involved (i.e. the buyers) — from the négociants through to the merchants, retailers and even the final consumer — the idea is that by buying at the 'en primeur' price you are getting a better deal than if you wait to buy two years later when the wine is finally released to the market. In good vintages, it is expected that by this time the prices will have increased, and everyone will have profited. That is the theory. While this tends to work in good vintages, it is not guaranteed. Like stocks, wine prices can go down as well as up.

Many négociants are still sitting on 2007s and 2008s, which were released at what is now considered too high 'en primeur' prices. Many of these wines have decreased in price since they were sold 'en primeur' because they are now considered over-priced and demand is lackluster.

En Primeur Beyond Bordeaux

While 'en primeur' is most associated with Bordeaux, some wines from Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Port are also sold 'en primeur.'

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

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