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Bordeaux En Primeur 2013: News, Views and Frenzy

Posted: Wednesday, 02 April 2014 11:48

Bordeaux En Primeur 2013: News, Views and Frenzy

Apr 02: Although brushed aside by wine experts earlier as an avoidable vintage, the 2013 has turned out to be a complicated vintage because of the climatic conditions and will be remembered as a winemakers’ vintage with some good reds and many dry whites wines available, writes Pallavi Vatsa who is attending En Primeur 2013 in Bordeaux on behalf of delWine and feels the Sauternes sweet wines were delicious

Click For Large ViewViola l’ En Primeur!  As every year En Primeur brings with it a lot of activity and excitement for wine critics, enologists, journalists, consultants, wine writers, businessmen and wine merchants around the world. And because of the buzz that surrounds this activity, excitement and predictions, En Primeur holds a wine drinker’s interest too! As I see it, this year has been no different with the usual hustle and bustle surrounding the annual ritual.

But where did this all begin? Actually this tradition of selling wines En Primeur or futures began as early as 18th century. A big chunk of the harvest was bottled in the wine merchants’ warehouse and this kept happening till the middle of 20th century. The wine maker had neither the technical expertise nor ample storage facilities at his winery back then. Around the middle of 20th century, with the initiative of Baron Philippe de Rothschild the practice of wine bottling in the winery started and has been working like that since then. Before being sold to the wine merchants the wine from the latest harvest undergoes barrel ageing of 18 to 24 months followed by bottling at the property itself.


In the tradition typical to the Gironde region (of which the city of Bordeaux is the prefecture) buying wines En Primeur means that customers purchase wines from the latest harvest at an early stage while it is still in the barrels. Only the grands crus classés and some highly rated wines are sold En Primeur. The success of En Primeur sales depends on the general reputation of the vintage, and the global economic context.

Here is how it works- the journalists and other important people related with the trade are invited for a week of tastings during the first week of April. At the end of April or in May journalists release their comments on the wine tasting along with their grades and comments. Subsequently prices are offered from May to the end of June, after which wines are put on sale. Initially, only merchants from the Bordeaux market can buy wine En Primeur, at a price lower than that after bottling. Afterwards these wines will be available to other French and international merchants. After 18 months the bottled wine is delivered to the buyer- from individuals looking for a single case to wine merchants to collectors who look at wine as an investment.

This morning during my visit to Maison Joanne (one of the biggest and most reputed Wine Merchants in Bordeaux ) situated 10 kilometers south east of  Bordeaux, one of their sales directors explained “The Châteaux offer prices for their wines and virtually give a part of their latest harvest at reduced rate to us merchants. We then also virtually sell the same wine to our clients and other buyers. Trust is a major factor in this process.” She also said that the pricing system of prix de vente conseillé (PVC) is followed by all the wine producers and Wine merchants to maintain honesty and transparency and peace in the market. She further added, “Once the price has been set by the property owners, the merchants put these wines on sale in advance in May or June. More often than not, there is more demand than supply-depending on the vintage of course and a good producer and merchant network is extremely important. The average buyer is the final customer who can take advantage of this system by booking and paying in advance for the product.”


Michel Rolland..

Click For Large ViewDuring my first day tasting of En Primeur 2013, I visited the properties in Saint Emilion. At Les Clos de Chateaux, Michel Rolland Consulting, I met Michel Rolland (the consultant to Grover Vineyards in India since inception does not need any introduction, does he?) and asked his impressions and about the vintage. He began by saying “This is a complicated vintage. Everything was complicated, the climate was complicated and the harvest was very complicated.” He further added that the most wonderful thing about this vintage was that an extraordinary amount of hard work had been put by the wine growers this year, much more than in recent years. Explaining the hard work, he says “during the harvest, we had to work individually on small plots of the land. In Crus, personally, after 40 years of winemaking I have never come across so much desire of selection”.

Michel Rolland said that only by experience and diligence this kind of disastrous weather conditions and declining morale could be taken care of. He also attributes the fitting survival of the vintage to the much evolved viticulture and wine making practices since the earlier times. He quips, “in the earlier days if there was something unusual happening we used to hear narratives of all sorts, most of which had little founding.” He concluded by saying “I think what we will remember about 2013 vintage is that during tasting we were not disappointed because we found some excellent wines. This is not a great vintage, for sure. But I do not say it is a bad vintage either because it is not true.”

James Suckling..

Click For Large ViewAt Michel Rolland consulting I caught up with James Suckling, the famed American wine critic regarded as one of the most influential wine critics in the word. Interestingly, he is also a cigar critic (how cool is that!) He has formerly worked as a Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief at the Wine Spectator and also as the European editor of Cigar Aficionado. When I asked him his impressions of the quality of wines he tasted in En Primeur he said, “frankly, before arriving here I was doubtful because we all know that 2013 has been a hard year with a lot of rain, limited sunlight and the fear of botrytis. I have tasted around 450 wines till now and though I may not say the exact numbers but it is true that I came across some very good wines. For example the dry whites are amazing and so are the Sauternes. It is true that there are some not so good wines too but that happens in every vintage. This is a year where we need to attribute nearly all the credit to the wine maker - to his relentless passion and determination. Though we cannot forget the vineyard and the cellar they had small roles to play in this vintage. I am very happy with 2013 vintage!”

.. Stéphane Derenoncourt

During tasting at his consulting firm La Grappe I met the formidable wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt and sat down to chat with him. I must say that his straight and simple approach struck me. Stéphane Derenoncourt makes wines in India (Alpine Winery in Karnataka), Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Italy Spain, Austria although a big chunk of his clients are in Bordeaux- like Smith Haut Lafite and  Domaine de Chevalier. In his company Derenoncourt Consultants he works with wineries around the world including a winery in Napa valley. Here are the excerpts of my interview with him:

Nature put your wine making skills to test this year, isn’it?

I tried to make balanced wines-not difficult wines that are impossible to make. So in those terms it was not tough.

What was the worst that happened, according to you?

Well we had disastrous weather conditions in the crucial points of the growing season. There was humid weather in autumn which could induce rot. This pressurized vine growers to do away with a large amount of raisins.

So how do you view this vintage

For me, it is a vintage of surprises-wonderful surprises. There are wines from which we did not expect much but they have been exceptionally good. But certainly these wines will be difficult to age.

How do you compare this vintage to the ‘12

Click For Large View2012 gave us powerful wines. These wines were great on the palate and also aged well and thus were easy to decode. When the vintage is difficult and heterogeneous, the wines lack power and are light. It becomes difficult to assess them as is the case this time around.

According to you what are important elements to make a good wine?

I think “terroir, travail and chance” are equally crucial elements. None of these can be out weighted in preference to the other. For example this year “terroir” was in play a lot because of the series of bad weather conditions that we had, therefore the clay in the soil played a key role in healthy maturation of grapes. It makes me sad to think that despite a lot of “travail” and hard work many vine growers put in, the bad weather took its toll on the eventual output. Therefore we also need the lady luck to smile on us.

Tell us about the wines from La Grappe this year

The wines are light on the nose. They are well balanced wines and have acidity and fruitiness on the palate.  Weight and structure is lacking on the palate though.

How do you think the En Primeur 2013 results will affect business? What predictions do you make?

I am a winemaker. I cannot predict the business. That’s not my job..!

What do you think is the biggest challenge of this vintage?

Well, the biggest challenge is to convince people that this is a good vintage and not only that but to convince them to buy the wines.


Click For Large ViewAt the fag end of my tasting for the day, I was in Chateau Angelus Premier Grand Cru Classé “A”, a beautiful property in Saint Emilion where I tasted some wonderful dry whites and a few great red wines too. Fortunately, being able to witness all frenzy around En Primeur makes me wonder- in the end, what is this all about? Is it pure business? Or only a symbolic tradition? Or an out of proportion, undue media hype? Is there even a simple answer to these questions?

Well, one of the aspects of En Primeur has a great a deal to do with business. The futures market is an early test of the curiosity in the latest vintage of great Bordeaux wines, and because only the wine industry insiders get a taste the well known critics and sommeliers critics have great influence. Until I have a say, for me it is glorious tradition, which is here to stay and which is very relevant in the light of quality of vintage and economic context. The media frenzy around En Primeuris a success story-a success repeating itself year after year. I completely agree with Michel Rolland when he says in this context, “if the system is working, it is because everybody is benefitting from it”.

Hold the glass and say cheers!

Pallavi Vatsa




Piyush Mordia Says:

The article gives a layman like me an insight into the annual vintage festival...... and also introduces readers to an entirely unknown territory in a simple yet effective manner.The author reminds me of someone I knew who was as versatile and articulate and was equally capable, if not more, of expressing her opinion on a variety of subjects.....I compliment you for your periodical on the net....and wish to tell you that I am impressed.. by your effort to provide such an interesting forum to wine lovers.keep it up .best wishes

Posted @ August 12, 2014 15:53


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