2013 Bordeaux: Selling the Futures

by Chuck Hayward

The 2013 Bordeaux futures campaign showed once again that each year's sales efforts has its own personality. As the Union des Grand Crus (UGC) tastings approached, the sales period for 2013 futures turned out to be a series of unique events that no one could have predicted.

The campaign actually started in December 2013 with the explosive news that Robert Parker would break with his tradition of publishing reviews of the most recent Bordeauxs in the April issue of The Wine Advocate. Citing previous engagements in China, Parker announced that his scores would be published in the June edition. (This date has since been pushed back even further, the new date for publishing his reviews will be the end of August.)

A few wine critics observed that Parker had only missed his traditional publication date twice (in 2002 because of the Gulf War crisis and also in 1992) so conspiracy theories abounded about this turn of events. Would this be Parker's swan song as he prepared to retire from writing about Bordeaux? Was this a not-so-subtle communication to the Bordeaux hierarchy that the futures program and high prices were untenable? No matter what his reasons, it was clear that the negociants and winery owners could not depend on Parker's scores to propel sales, they were on their own.

The nascent campaign took an even more unusual turn when Alfred Tesseron undertook the unprecedented act of releasing the prices for his 2013 Pontet Canet several days before the start of the UGC trade tastings. At that point, very few members of the trade had even tasted the wine including some negociants who were asked to purchase the wine sight unseen (or is that "taste untasted"?) !! Chateau Gazin, a Pomerol estate that is traditionally the first winery to release their prices after the UGC tastings are concluded, released their wines in the middle of en primeur week.

The absence of Parker's reviews meant that wineries did not need to delay their offers towards the end of April to capitalize on his scores. Consequently, the en primeur campaign started quickly and kept up its rapid pace through the month. In the end, selling the 2013s turned out to be one of the fastest campaigns on record. There are only a handful of estates that have yet to set their 2013 prices and they should be completed by the first week of May. To contrast the 2013 vintage with previous years, negociants offered the last 2011s during the second week of June while the 2012 campaign was finished just before Memorial Day.

As expected, there were small ripples of interest in the 2013s but the overwhelming demand that results from a successful harvest of red wines was never going to happen. Critics and others in the trade argued that a 30% drop in prices would be needed to engage consumers but citing reduced yields and strict selections in the cellar, few wineries offered discounts more than 20% with many (like Pontet Canet) setting prices equal to their 2012 releases.

The best wines of the vintage, dry whites from Pessac-Leognan and the Medoc along with the sweet wines of Sauternes, sparked the most interest. And with many wineries producing small amounts of wine in 2013, a number of wines caught fire as buyers rushed to secure bottles of first growths and other classic best sellers. The highest demand was for those estates in Pomerol and St. Emilion that make very little wine, even in good years. Fans of these appellations know that buying en primeur provides the best opportunity to secure these rare wines.

The en primeur campaign now enters a period of uncertainty thanks to the absence of Parker's scores to guide sales. The lack of significant price decreases certainly reduced interest across the broader swath of the Bordeaux red wine production so that sales of any wine in the near future can expect to move along quietly until the end of August when the arrival of The Wine Advocate offers consumers and the trade a chance to revisit the category.

Here are some of JJ Buckley's best selling 2013 en primeur offers:

2013 Calon Segur (St. Estephe)

2013 Chateau Suduiraut (Sauternes)

2013 Cos d'Estournel Blanc (Bordeaux)

2013 Pontet Canet (Pauillac)