• Rupert Millar - Source: www.thedrinksbusiness.com

En Primeur 2018 verdict: a sense of detachment

The scores declared some wines the 'best ever', the prices were ambitious, audacious even but at the end of the latest en primeur campaign why did it all feel so... flat?

After two months and one day from the release of Angelus in April to Vieux Château Certan in June, the campaign for the 2018 vintage has ended (Le Pin and Petrus have now been released but they are very tightly allocated so don't really count as being part of the 'main' campaign).

It has been a long campaign and at the very least releases felt fairly even-paced but, as Giles Cooper at fine wine merchant BI said: "The campaign was a bit odd in the sense that it never really felt like it 'got going'."

There was certainly no repeat of the 2011 campaign's 'Black Tuesday' or the splurges during the 2015 campaign nor the somewhat unrelenting pace of daily releases for the 2017s.

Yet, messy and eye-rolling inducing as those moments were, at least they offered something to talk about. With releases coming at you thick and fast there was a sense that something was happening.

This time around it felt rather... bloodless.

Releases plodded along and while there was no pricing crescendo as in past campaigns, prices were pretty solidly stacked at the 'upper end of hoped for' when all was said and done.

Which is a shame because, as Georgina Crawley, business development director at Goedhuis, said, there was "excitement from customers" for this vintage which was lacking last year.

Goedhuis, she went on, has put a lot of effort into its social media and creating profiles on each châteaux for its website, "trying to excite a consumer market that's a bit bored" and it has worked.

"People were sending in wish lists for the first time in ages," she said but, unfortunately, this was short-lived. As she went on: "So there was interest but as soon as first prices came out that rather went away."

Liv-ex looked back at the shopping basket of wines it asked its 400 global members to price back in April and found that, overall, the basket was 0.99% more expensive than they were expecting.

Some wines were worse offenders than others. Montrose for example ended up being 22.9% more expensive than predicted, Cos d'Estournel 19% and Pichon Lalande 16.8%.

Others were less expensive than expected. La Mission Haut-Brion was 16% cheaper per bottle and Pontet Canet 13% less than forecast.

St Emilion labels Cheval Blanc and Pavie were also a little cheaper than expected - not that it helped their cause much as they were still horribly expensive.

As Liv-ex has laid out in its post-campaign report, it was expected that prices would be higher than the 2017s as 2018 was broadly considered a 'better' vintage but as it is not as great as 2016 it was thought prices would be comfortably below the prices that vintage had commanded.

Instead: “Ex-négociant (release) prices commanded a 0.03% premium to 2016 and 13% to 2017. This did not correspond with the anticipated 4.85% discount on 2016, according to the Liv-ex survey.”

Liv-ex co-director, Justin Gibbs, said: “Unless you were a wine where the 2016 had moved dramatically since release, you were going to be expensive, because overall the percentage change is basically zero from 2016 to now. Most clients know their 2016s (a great vintage) have not moved and now they’re being offered wines at pretty much the same price.”

Although most of the wines that sold well, such as Carmes de Haut-Brion, Canon, Calon Ségur, Lafleur and Beychevelle, conformed to the ‘proper’ model of en primeur, offering the latest vintage at a lower price than other available wines, there were a number of surprises where demand for wines that, in most other circumstances wouldn’t work, was very high.

Both Palmer and Pontet-Canet, no doubt due to the high quality wines they produced but in such tiny quantities, were highly sought after and others such as Léoville Las Cases, Angelus and Domaine de Chevalier also sold well.

Ella Lister, founder of Wine Lister, said that while prices were often higher than might have been recommended, it showed that [in the case of Chevalier], “people don’t always buy on a purely technical basis. A lot of the trade really loved the wine and believed in the quality and story. That stuck and it worked and helped the wine to sell.”

But many others still just belly-flopped when offered to customers and, Miles Davis at Wine Owners commented: “It was very telling this year that you can still find big names, including first growths. Some things have really not sold very well at all.”

The top 20 UK merchants’ sales – as reported to Liv-ex – hit £80 million this campaign. This is a good chunk more than last year’s campaign – though that wasn’t particularly difficult to achieve – and makes it the third best campaign since 2010 by value. Many merchants made close to what they did in 2015 but very few matched or even got close to what they sold in 2016.

And in terms of volumes sold, the 2018 campaign was not very impressive, selling less than 2014, 2015 or 2016. Its economic successes therefore are largely cosmetic, the result of elevated prices allowing smaller stocks to be sold for more and the number of brands sold continues to shrink as fewer wines offer the all-important ‘compelling reason to buy’.

Read the full article at: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2019/06/en-primeur-2018-verdict-a-sense-of-detachment/

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