What is En Primeur?
En Primeur is a French term which means 'futures'. It refers to the opportunity of buying upfront a Bordeaux vintage the spring following the previous years harvest.
The wine has been blended and sitting in oak barrels for 6 months. After this time, the world of wine arrives in Bordeaux to taste and critic the wine. After this period the wine is sold to 'négociants' who will then sell this wines, to different wholesalers, who distribute this wine across the world. This has been happening since the 1600's. One of the négociants aims is to break into new markets, and to ensure the wine can be distributed to as many countries and regions around the world as possible. There are currently over 400 négociants in Bordeaux, and each Château can have up to 100 négociants working for them, at any one time.
The price of the wine is settled and all négociants buy these 'En Primeur' wines at the same price. There are lots of advantages for the Château of selling 'En Primeur', and most sell close to all of their future supply through this system. The main advantages are:
They have instant cash flow, since the consumer pays in advance
They can cover themselves when there is a bad year, because not every year in Bordeaux is a 5* vintage!
As a consumer, there is a risk of buying 'En Primeur'. How do you know that the wine will be good? You don't. You have to rely on the 100's of wine critics, and professionals, who taste the wine during a one week period in April. You hope, that the wine will just improve and once released, will gain value. If it does, you sigh a sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back. Good job! If it drops in value, then darn you made a wrong move.
Another couple of points to add are that the prices (assuming a good year), will be cheaper during the 'En Primeur' than they will be upon release. Recent vintages though have not seen dramatic changes. You will also get the chance to pre-order rare wines, which you might not get a chance to buy upon release.
What to the winemakers and owners say each year to help with marketing ;)
"This is the vintage of the decade", "A winemakers vintage", "A perfect growing season", "I have never tasted Cabernet this good"
These are often quotes which are said by owners hoping to attract promising buyers. Even owners often laugh at how often these phrases are said. I like to see this as passionate, enthusiastic owners who want the world to try their wine.
Bordeaux has a lot of good vintages, every 4-5 years, Bordeaux will produce fantastic wines. However, I am often more excited to try 'challenging' vintages. These really show which winemakers can make excellent wine when Mother Nature did not cooperate.
With the released 2017 vintage, which is a 3.5* vintage, is an example of where Mother Nature did not cooperate. Some regions did very well where others did less so. Frost destroyed close to 40% of the vines in April 2017. The below map really shows how most areas were at least partly affected.
Due to these frosts, less wine will be produced. After the frost hit the rest of the growing season did not go too bad. There were some cloudy skies during the summer and September rain which did not allow for full maturity of grapes. However, overall the grapes harvested allowed for a good base, for the winemakers to produce fresh, early drinking wine. 2017 will be a good vintage to drink young. Following excellent vintages of 2015 and 2016, there is less excitement over the current vintage. However, with little interest from buyers, the wines are being sold at a 10-20% discount compared to the 2016 vintage. The highlight in 2017 is the Pessac white's, which are showing particularly strong this year. 2017 is very much a terroir vintage, two vineyards less than 2 km apart can have completely different results.
Will you buy any bottles of the 2017 vintage? If so which Chateaux are you targeting?