I went to the international press dinner last night during Vinexpo, which the Conseil des Grand Crus Classes en 1855 organized. This is the annual dinner during Vinexpo that all the châteaus of the prestigious Bordeaux classification host. I have been going since the early 1980s.
It’s always amusing to see all the château owners and winemakers in one place. It’s a pretty friendly event. And it is supposedly to thank the journalists of the world for writing about the wines of Bordeaux. Some are more thankful than others, depending on the ratings of their wines, but that’s business.
Even the actual host of last night’s dinner, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, mentioned how happy she was with the high rating of her 2006 Mouton. This is one of my wines of the vintage in my 2006 en primeur (futures) report.
Unfortunately, neither she nor any of the other four first-growths have come out with their prices yet for their 2006 futures. And I have to wonder why. The 2007 crop is already on the vine. It’s getting too late and I am not sure many consumers are going to buy the wines as futures this late. I guess the trade will have to hold the stock, for the most part. This has happened before, and the trade made enough money with 2005 to hold the bag this year.
Even the great 1990 vintage was not sold through to the consumer the first year it was released. And, if I remember correctly, the 1996 vintage was sold late as well. The top 2006s will sell one day. There are many good to outstanding quality wines.
Anyway, I am not sure prices will come down enough, especially with the first-growths, to generate much interest at the consumer level for futures. This is especially true in the U.S. market, where we went large with the 2005s and the dollar is very weak at the moment. So far, I have heard that second-growth quality 2006s that have sold from the château for 50 euros or more a bottle are not selling through. I think, for example, that Cos d’Estournel has not sold well. This is despite its 2006 being about half the price of the current bottle price in Bordeaux for its 2005 and 2003.
Maybe the first-growths can stimulate the market for 2006 futures? So, what do they need to release their prices at to generate interest in the market? I don’t have a crystal ball. I know that many consumers who used to buy first-growths can’t afford them any more. So I don’t think 2006 prices will be low enough to bring them back. My guess is that whatever they release at you are not going to see much change from three hundred-dollar bills. Maybe even four!
Rothschild asked questions along the same lines during a speech before the food was served at last night’s dinner. “What are our Grand Crus Classes today?” she asked. “A luxury product, or something to share with friends? Something to be drunk, or a speculative investment? Should we fear that wines will one day quit the cellar for the strong room, the table for the display case? And does the bottomless wealth spawned by globalization promise a reassuring future for our wines, or just a bubble of prosperity that could easily burst if one day those new buyers look elsewhere for the symbols of their success?”
I suggest that all the château owners, particularly the first-growths, ask themselves these questions when they next price their wines. It’s a new market, a new world out there for their wines. But Bordeaux, the top names in particular, needs to maintain the market and consumer demand it has built since the second World War. Prices need to be more reasonable.