En Primeur: A Rare Show of Dissent (and Be Careful What You Tweet)
June 28th 2011, by Gavin
One Bordeaux story that flew around the internet this month was a Bordeaux negociant’s public refusal to buy a top Chateau’s 2010 because the price was ‘ludicrous’. At that price the wine ‘deserved to tank in the market’, I tweeted. So guess who I sat next to at a black-tie dinner, given by the leading Châteaux, two days later?
Let me explain.
Adam Lechmere’s article on Decanter.com on 16th June, entitled ‘Negociant boycotts ‘ludicrous’ Rauzan Ségla‘ caused quite a stir. As well as far more comments than usual for an article on Decanter, Tim Atkin MW wrote a post on his blog, as did Oliver Styles.
The Place de Bordeaux is a trading environment that usually operates behind closed doors, whereby top Châteaux sell their wines, as futures mostly, to a band of Bordeaux middlemen – via courtiers, or brokers – who then sell on to importers around the world, who in turn sell to private buyers. The Bordeaux negociants provide the financial buffer between the producer and the market. With a vintage like 2010, with prices at an all-time high, and with demand mixed as a result, they’re having their work and resources cut out.
For Barrière Frères to refuse their allocation of Rauzan-Ségla was one thing, to email their customers to say that the 40% increase, from €60 to €84 a bottle, was ‘ludicrous’ was quite another. (The email can be seen here on Cellarblog.) A copy was swiftly obtained by Decanter, who then contacted John Kolasa, the MD of Rauzan-Ségla. I then tweeted his quote, taken from the Decanter article:
“Rauzan-Ségla MD on #bdx10 ‘a bit annoyed myself that prices are so high but as the representative of the owners I’ve had to follow the line’.”
It was clear from the twittersphere that the price increase wasn’t going down well. @jeanniecholee – the influential Asian Master of Wine – launched a new book at the Bordeaux Wine Bureau, or CVIB, that evening. “Buzz tonight was how Rauzan Segla tanked in the market. With prices >40% vs 09, not even negociants wd touch it. Very jittery market this yr” she tweeted.
The following morning, on Friday, I sent this tweet:
“With this from MD: “annoyed myself that prices are so high but… I’ve had to follow the line’, didn’t Rauzan-Segla #bdx10 deserve to tank?”
Soon after, intrigued by his outburst, I called Laurent Ehrmann, the MD of Barrière Frères and the man who had signed the email. “We all have the same routines in our lives – we take a shower, we go to work and so on – but this was a wake-up call,” he said.”I saw this in front of me and I thought ‘Hold one second. Take a look at this. I do not want to pollute our customers’ time with this offer’.” It’s fair to say that Laurent can be quite outspoken. More on that conversation – regarding his role as a negociant – another time.
The bizarre thing was that two days later, I had been invited to a very grand dinner at Château Haut-Brion, at the start of Vinexpo. Each of the 35 tables of ten was hosted by senior representatives from two leading Châteaux. As I approached the table, I spotted the name on the place setting, right next to me: John Kolasa, the Managing Director of Château Rauzan-Ségla. Oops.
I’ve met John before on several occasions, and he’s a nice guy, so conversation came easily. There was much to talk about, what with the ups and downs (mostly ups, in price terms) of the primeur campaign still dragging on. A Scotsman, he’s also a negociant in his own right with Ulysses Cazabonne, working there for the same owners as Rauzan-Ségla, the Wertheimer family of Chanel. His first full vintage in charge of Rauzan-Ségla was the 1995.
“Are you on Twitter?” I enquired gently, as we talked about the internet in relation to the campaign.”Oh, I don’t have time for that” he replied. Thank feck for that, I thought.
We talked about the price of the 2010s generally, and how he’d arrived at the price for Rauzan-Ségla. As he had told Decanter, prices were too high, and he wanted to offer his 2010 for less than the 2009. The owners were bullish though, especially given a 97-98 point score from James Suckling, the American critic. ‘But what about Parker’s 92-94?’ I asked. ‘He marked us down’, he said. I replied that Parker was a little bit light perhaps, as I’d given the wine 93-95. We didn’t split hairs for long. (Oh, in case you’re thinking, ‘how silly to talk about scores’, you’re right – but when it comes to selling Bordeaux en primeur, they matter.)
I surmised that John’s quote to Decanter might have been more accurate if he’d said ‘I’m a bit annoyed myself that prices are so high but as the representative of the owners I’ve had to follow the(ir) line’. Not that he’s paid to say things like that.
In any case, by Friday afternoon, John had sold a third of the allocation they’d put out for sale en primeur. Once again, the role of the critics – assessing wines before prices are released – should be questioned.
Anyway, I’ll carry on tweeting, despite this close call. Robert Parker said yesterday on Twitter:
“2010 Bordeaux futures prices for the famous chateaux look ridiculously high-a fool’s game to throw money at these wines(a top vintage)”
To which I replied
@RobertMParkerJr You can fix this. Will you agree, next year, not to publish your scores until prices are out?