But there are subdue things to look at – if for no additional wits than you can be particular the smart Bordeaux chateaux are doing so, and it might shed a small more set alight on what they are plotting to do (although not necessarily why).
For a start, Napa already seems to be where Bordeaux is heading; namely releasing only very tiny percentages of its overall wine through the futures programme. Only in Napa they are upfront about it. The estates tell their consumer exactly how huge a slice they are releasing (nearly invariably 10-15%), and at what discount it is from the final in-bottle release fee (as far as I have seen between 10 -20% discount). And there are plenty of instances when they don’t even offer a discount on the bottled wine, but make the whole thing about access. Oh, and many only offer futures in the best vintages.
The largest player in the Californian Futures game is the yearly Napa Premiere auction
But increasingly, private wineries also run their own programmes direct to consumers, nearly always for wine club members, subscribers or best customers. V Sattui Winery, Château Montelena and Joseph Phelps Vineyards are three of the most prominent, but there are several others gaining increasing attention, from Nickel & Nickel to Lail Vineyards. They offer personalised marks, limited editions, special bottle sizes, name engravings, private tastings during the ageing administer, basically anything that
But there is another futures model that is quietly gaining traction, in the form of a companionship based on the East Coast of the United States called e-Cep. Started in 2012 by Frenchman Serge Marquié and his wife Sally Wilkinson, it has made a business out of brokering futures for some of the most iconic Napa Valley wines including Staglin, Scarecrow and Continuum. They offer a direct-to-consumer bond that has so far been sold to a few thousand customers.
I spar to Marquié this week to be with you how it might develop. ‘In the US, there is no need for a Futures market for wines that are readily available. If it can be seen on the shelf, then there is no need to buy in advance. Instead we
‘Wineries all have their own reasons for working with us – for some it’s a way to test new thoughts, others offer verticals or use it to pre-sell specific bottles sizes such as magnums or jeroboams that are tough to commit to for small production estates. Growers that have
‘We are not plotting to extend this to Bordeaux, but I can see it avoids a lot of the issues that En Primeur has such as lack of transparency and over-influence of intermediaries. And when I look at the Bordeaux market, there is one property that surely should be looking closely at bonds; and that is Château Latour. They say they don’t want people to drink their wine early, but it would make sense for them to sell in the form of bonds today. They say one of their huge issues is provenance; so selling bonds against
The largest stumbling block for any of these things in Bordeaux is the number produced by most chateaux here. Direct to consumer is very tough when you make thousands of suitcases of your top wine, and to date no one has been better at championing the quality of Bordeaux than the thousands of merchants around the world who subdue like these wines, despite current frustrations. But if we accept that châteaux are starting to question their existing strategy, then it’s certainly worth looking to see what lessons can be learnt from Napa.
And one thing that Napa has clearly taken to heart is that well-heeled wine drinkers are looking for greater date. So let’s place it another way – Bordeaux chateaux might only be thought about disrupting their immediate supply chain, but is there a larger opportunity for us as consumers here? If En Primeur is to
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