I was surprised to read that a South African winery has begun to sell their wines at En Primeur. Selling wine by the barrel is not generally done in South Africa but it has been adopted by Dormershire, a boutique winery situated near Kuils River on the Stellenbosch Wine Route. On closer investigation it turns out that the first South African estate to launch its wines at En Primeur was the Darling based Cloof winery with its 2005 vintage.
Bordeaux, of course is well known for selling its wines at En Primeur. I think it was the British that suggested the notion in the first place in order to release cash to chateaux owners for the next vintage. The idea of en primer started off as a way to help finance the châteaux owners whereby they released some of their stock in barrel.
They then found they had enough resources to concentrate on the forthcoming vintage and were able to tend to their vines without fear of financial difficulties. The system became popular in the 1970s due to wine merchants and connoisseurs speculating on the wines for investment. Now it seems to have got completely out of hand and is in danger of causing its own demise.
Other wine producing regions in France offer wines at En Primeur, notably Burgundy, Rhone and Sauternes. However Italy, Austria, Germany and Spain also offer wines at En Primeur, albeit to a lesser extent. Port is released at En Primeur and some Tokaji. New World countries are also following suit namely New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and the USA.
Paul Frost of the South African winery Dormershire has said that:
“It only works well for small wine estates and you need to be close to city centres. We are the Stellenbosch wine estate closest to Cape Town which makes us easily accessible for regular tastings by our buyers who follows the maturation process of their wine in the barrel. Each barrel also needs personal attention from our wine maker and can be individually bottled which is only possible in a small winery.
We think of it as selling a wine experience seeing that barrel owners bring along their friends and clients to taste from their barrels and very often turns it into a social event. In this way their appreciation and understanding of the wine making process improves. Ultimately they can put their own signature or company logo on the wine label should they wish to.”
The estate currently offers barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz of the 2011 vintage. Barrel owners may make up their own blends from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in consultation with the winemaker.
The advantages to the barrel owner is that he fixes the price of his wine more than a year in advance and with his friends and clients has free access to the venue for barrel tastings. Dormershire benefits from cash up front.
If you have heard of any other countries offering wines at En Primeur please let me know!