Updated July 1, 2011
Bordeaux’s 2010 futures campaign peaked this week, as first-growth châteaus Latour, Haut-Brion, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild finally released their prices, along with several other prominent châteaus, including Yquem, Cheval-Blanc, Ausone, Pavie and Angélus. (This story will be updated as new pricing is released.)
The predictable nature of the campaign, which has seen most châteaus posting price increases of 10 to 20 percent over the 2009s (which at the time was the most expensive futures campaign in history), was continued by Margaux and Mouton, who both released their wines June 28, with both offered ex-négociant at 600 euros per bottle (or about $860), up from 550 euros for the 2009s. Major négociant houses reported solid sales for the first-growth wines. (The ex-négociant price includes the négociant's markup. By the time the wine goes through an importer, distributor and retailer for American consumers, the price will rise even further.)
“There is solid buying interest in Margaux, as well as for Pavillon Rouge [the estate’s second wine]," said Mathieu Chadronnier, general director of CVBG, one of Bordeaux’s major négociant houses. “For Mouton, the interest is clearly there as well. But as it is only the first tranche, with a small quantity, offers take more time to get out.”
The next day Lafite followed suit, releasing its wine at 600 euros per bottle. La Mission-Haut-Brion also released at 600 euros, putting the property across the street from Haut-Brion at the same level as three first-growths. Château Haut-Brion broke ranks with the other first-growths, announcing their ex-négociant price for the 2010 vintage at 660 euros June 30. In St.-Emilion, Château Figeac released at 168 euros, up 5 percent from the 2009 vintage. Châteaus Pavie and Angélus each raised their 2010 ex-négoce prices to 225 euros June 30; the changes amounted to a 14 percent hike on Pavie's 2009 and a 7 percent raise on Angélus'.
The last of the first-growths to release its price was Château Latour, on July 1, and its price raised the first-growth bar even further, coming out at 780 euros ex-négociant, up from 600 for the 2009. Latour also released all of its wine at once rather than following the model of several tranches over the following months. "I don't see the point of making two or three tranches if the négociants and importers are all waiting for all the tranches to be released to offer the wines," said Latour director Frédéric Engerer. "The 2010 price, [650 euros from the château to négociants], is just 5 euros difference from our final average compound price of the 2009 primeurs campaign and about 35 percent lower than our current 2009 market price."
That same day, the most expensive 2010s yet were also announced, with Château Ausone debuting at 1120 euros, up from 960, and Château Cheval-Blanc coming out at 850 euros, up from 700.
While most châteaus have raised prices this campaign, three prominent second-growths decided to cut—Château Cos-d’Estournel in St.-Estèphe (198 euros, down from 215), Château Ducru-Beaucaillou in St.-Julien (150 euros, down from 180 for the 2009) and Château Léoville Las Cases in St.-Julien (192 euros, down from 216). Château d'Yquem dramatically lowered its price from 540 euros for the 2009 to 420 euros for the 2010. But buying interest did not seem to increase despite the wines’ potentially classic quality. One possible reason: All four properties dramatically raised prices last year, which left some customers grumbling.
Interest in Cos was reportedly sluggish. One major négociant chose not to comment directly on the sales of Cos, saying only, "It's really scores, brand reputation and worldwide brand recognition [that move the wine]. Just dropping prices isn't a guarantee to move the wine. The châteaus that went from 80 to 200 euros in the last few vintages have really slowed down this en primeur campaign. The difference in '09 was the fact everyone was jumping back into the market after being away for a few years and so the buying was more widespread."
Other prominent châteaus who released prices this week include Pomerol’s Vieux-Château-Certan at 180 euros (its 2009 came out at 156 euros) and La Conseillante at 150 euros (up from 138). Margaux’s Château Palmer released its 2010 at 215 euros, flat vis-à-vis the estate’s 2009 price.
While buying interest in Asian and other markets was helping to bolster demand, the American market seems to be more mercurial thanks to economic difficulties and clear fatigue with Bordeaux after the much-hyped 2009 vintage.
“With the prices now, it just doesn’t make sense to tie up capital for a few years in wines that won’t be here for a while,” said Tom Gannon, wine director at Rothmann’s Steakhouse, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner in New York. Gannon noted that Bordeaux is his second-best selling category of wine behind Napa Cabernet. But, “there’s no reason for us to buy futures. For Bordeaux to put on the wine list, it’s easier to plumb collectors' cellars for back vintages or take in stock of off years that are drinking well now.”
Others were even more blunt. “Customer interest is near nil, on all accounts,” said Daniel Posner, owner of Grapes The Wine Company, an independent wine retailer in White Plains, N.Y.
But others say the U.S. market is showing signs of life. Michael Binstein, CEO of Binny’s, said the buying interest is strong for the 2010 vintage, so far. “The interest is mostly in the classified growths and well-reviewed wines. But it’s surprisingly strong considering the economy," said Binstein. "Right now I think it’s stronger than it was for the ‘09s. But it’s still early so the jury is out."
Binny's has 27 locations, which bring in $250 million in revenue annually, and Binstein said competition for Bordeaux has grown. While fewer retailers are carrying futures today, those that do sell to dedicated Bordeaux buyers who go looking online for the best source. “Ten years ago there was a local market and we only had to compete on price for Chicago,” said Binstein. “Now with the Internet we have to compete on price with the world market. So if people are saying there is no interest [in Bordeaux futures], I would have to ask at what price are they selling the stuff? It’s really become as competitive a segment as California Chardonnay.”
While prominent châteaus were taking marginal increases or even some decreases for the grand vins, there were also several noticeable price jumps for the estates' second wines. Ducru-Beaucaillou’s second wine, Croix de Beaucaillou, was being offered at 33.60 euros ex-négociant, up from 25.80 for the 2009, while Petit Mouton (the second wine of Mouton-Rothschild) nearly doubled, from 60 euros to 108 euros for the 2010. A day later, Château Latour released its second wine, Forts de Latour at 162 euros, up from 89 euros for the '09, an 82 percent increase. Cheval-Blanc's second wine, Le Petit Cheval, increased in price from 108 euros to 165 euros.
Chadronnier said interest has been big for the second wines. While prices have gone up, the wines seem far more attainable than their big brother first wines. With top châteaus making stricter selections and increasingly focusing on the quality of their second wines, they seem to be garnering more and more attention among value seeking buyers.