Chateau Latour announced this week that they were releasing the Latour 1995 vintage and their Second Wine, Forts de Latour, vintage 2005 as ‘ready to drink’. Chateau Latour has parted company with the En Primeur system and instead 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. When this was announced last April it indicated the beginning of the end to me and I could see Latour doing away with the courtier/negotiant system and selling direct. Now however it seems the negotiants are doing away with Latour – Patrick Bernard of Millesima has announced that they have refused their Latour allocation of Latour 1995 and Fortes de Latour 2005.
Terre de Vins has reported that the negotiant firm Millesima (one of the oldest and largest of the Bordeaux fine wine merchants) has boycotted Chateau Latour’s release as 95% of their purchases are from futures (ie En Primeur) and that they feel they need to respect this system. Bernard said that Latour’s decision to opt out of En Primeur was folly and that Latour now wants to deal directly with ‘their’ customers.
Decanter reports that the Latour 1995 carries ‘an ex-chateau premium of £500-700 premium on ‘normal’ well-provenanced stock currently in circulation.’ Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners, who are offering the wines, told Decanter that ‘this is really a wine for collectors who want pristine labels with perfect ex-chateau provenance.’
However Liv-ex point out in their blog Latour 1995: will the market bite the market is far from convinced. As Director Anthony Maxwell told the Drinks Business ‘is a guarantee of chateau cellaring any better than having never left Octavian?’ Liv-ex go on to say that ‘in many respects Latour is a test case, with its success hinging on how much the market really cares about ex-chateau stock. Is it worth a 20% premium? And if so, how enduring will that premium prove to be once the wine has been in the supply chain for a couple of years?’
So, is the ex-chateau Latour 1995 worth the extra money? According to Jane Anson at New Bordeaux.com the ex-chateau wines from Latour have special back labels on the reverse of each bottle stating that the wine is shipped from the chateau and has never moved from Pauillac. This might appeal to wine investors and collectors – notably those in China, where provenance is a big issue due to counterfeit wine and fraud – but will it appeal to Old World wine enthusiasts? I doubt it. There is one factor that will have a big impact though – scarcity. If vintages of Latour become rare and difficult to get hold of will that force the market to open its arms despite the hike in price?
Last year Hamish Wakes-Millerof Bella Wines made an excellent point and confirmed something that in the wine trade we have all known for some time – Latour has been stock piling vintages: ‘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.’
There are vintages of Latour that pre date their exit from En Primeur around on the market but they are obviously few and far between. What will happen in the future when the only available vintages of Latour – those of 2012 and beyond – are available ex-chateau? Drip feeding future vintages may fall on deaf ears if the market moves on without Latour at En Primeur. Has Latour bitten off more than it can chew?
What’s more, trouble is most definitely afoot amongst the negotiants – who have been dealing with a difficult situation for some time now. The top flight Bordeaux chateaux over priced their wines in 2009 and 2010, stalling the markets. Chasing China grew stale as the Chinese refused to pay over the odds and their interest cooled. The 2011 vintage has not sold very well . . . and the negotiants (and wine merchants) are left to hold the baby. I wonder if Millesima will stand alone or if this is the beginning of a trend?