Chateau Latour announced on Friday that it will no longer continue to sell wine at En Primeur from 2012. Instead they will keep complete control of their wine and sell it when they consider it to be ready for drinking – which could mean that some vintages will not be released for years. To me it also indicates the beginning of the end and I can see Latour doing away with the courtier/negotiant system and selling direct.
It’s something that we have talked about in the wine world, and something that I have written about in the past. (see En Primeur 2009 blogs). I can see the other First Growths – and some of the other Grand Cru Classé – following suit if they have sufficient reserves of back vintages (which a lot of the top chateaux do) and sufficient funds to cope with the dip in their cash flow till the new system picks up.
As Chris Kissack (aka the Wine Doctor) points out in his excellent coverage of the story Latour will become more expensive due to its exclusivity and perfect provenance.
James Suckling notes that Asian wine lovers prefer their wines in bottle and are nervous of buying En Primeur which explains Latour’s logic in part. He quotes Frederic Engerer of Latour as saying: “We need to adapt to consumer demand. We are seeing the wine consumers and lovers living differently. It’s rarer and rarer that people buy wine and age it in the same place for 20 or 30 years.”
Hamish Wakes-Miller of Bella Wines has confirmed that in the wine trade we have all known that something was astir for a while – chateau were stock piling vintages and, expensive new cellars, storage facilities and chais are being built. Hamish also reports that: “Chateau Latour had changed their philosophy over the years. They had severely cut the amount of negociants with whom they dealt. They had savagely cut people who had loyally bought and promoted their wines.”
Of course the majority of chateaux in Bordeaux can not do away with En Primeur – they rely on the cash flow (which is why the system was set up 100 years ago in the first place). What will probably happen is that the top chateaux will break away from the En Primeur and Courtier/Negotiant system and form an elite group that sell and distribute their own wines, controlling the price and the quantities released. Check out Vinalytics for a good report on possible business models that Latour could adopt.
It’s interesting that Latour waited till now, a poor vintage, to announce their news – if they had done it with the 2010 they may have benefited from the speculative buzz that would erupt about ‘when’ people could get hold of the sought after wine. And that’s one thing that Latour might find they have overlooked in all this – buzz. En Primeur is full of it. How will Latour market their wines without attending En Primeur? It’s the one set time of year where thousands of wine merchants, critics, journalists and enthusiasts are concentrated in one place to do one thing – taste the new vintage. Their reports are read by thousands of wine lovers who eagerly anticipate the next review. If Latour starts releasing wine when they feel like it they are in danger of disappearing off the radar . . . En Primeur focuses the world’s attention whereas a single release from Latour, no matter how much it is fanfared, can not attract that kind of publicity.