The TBC-EP Lowdown!

Lafite Tasting

For those unsure about what buying wine 'En Primeur' ('EP') is all about, this page will provide you with some useful facts and discussion about the whole affair. Though a lot of EP buyers are clued up collectors looking for the best deals on top flight Bordeaux, with the right guidance it can also be fantastic, engaging and lucrative fun for newcomers. If you are thinking of getting involved, please take some time to consider the facts below and also do some wider reading. Everyone tends to have their own take, depending on the nature of their involvement! Crucially, it's vital to find the right merchant who you can trust to deliver your wines. As a collector turned merchant, I take that responsibility incredibly seriously as I know the whole success of TBC rest's on it being a reliable source. Whoever you choose, your 2016 EP purchases will not be arriving until 2019 so you don't want to be stressing about receiving them! Do NOT buy any wine from cold callers promising high returns. There's a lot of unscrupulous characters out there praying on those who had heard that wine is a solid investment, but don't know the full score. Understanding the process is not difficult in itself but the buying choices are variable and require a bit of insight, knowledge and willingness (bravery?) to jump on at the right time. I only myself decided to buy EP with the 2004 vintage and since then I've been lucky enough to be involved (or not) with an excellent cross section of  Bordeaux vintages. After assessing the physical and fiscal development of these wines, and benefiting from them in different ways, I progressed to launching the first TBC EP campaign with the 2008's. I was glad to be able to step it up a notch for the 09's and then up again with the 2010's though it was a considerably harder task due to many of the Bordelais going completely bananas with overpricing. They have a nasty habit of getting the pricing wrong but occasionally that works in the consumers favour as in 2008 when even I was surprised how low the prices were. I'm hoping for a bit more of the same this year with the 2014's but time will tell! I'll relay more of my experience so far but before I do, here's a basic explanation of the principle…


EP is a wine release system for the Bordeaux Chateau whereby they sell extremely young wines to the Bordeaux trade as "futures". The trade then sell these on to consumers for a small mark up. These infant wines are still maturing in barrel and 2 years away from actual bottling. Barrel samples of the young vintage are assessed by critics, journalists and trade, then hotly debated. As top Bordeaux is expensive, and is known to rise in value, many people wish to buy it as early as possible at the Chateau "release" price. The idea being that it will never be cheaper than this and very likely be more expensive, even double/tripling in price. The early influx of funds was traditionally a welcome cash injection for the Chateau (and trade) who needed to fund next years considerable vineyard expenses. All the higher end Chateau use the EP system as a successful marking tool.


Many wine enthusiasts, investors and merchants have taken advantage of this system and made good returns from flipping their purchases a few years down the line. However it isn't always advisable to buy this early & in recent times a lot of people have in fact lost money on wine investments. The wine has a long way to go in terms of physical development and can be misread by even the greatest of palates. It can also be unrealistically priced by the Bordelaise, which is a rather irksome habit of theirs! Prices can hit the market and fluctuate up and down or simply remain the same, making an early purchase unnecessary. It's basically a classic supply and demand situation, often ramped up by the top Chateau only releasing a proportion ('tranche') of their wine. They obviously want to get in on the higher prices later and do their best to fuel the demand by limiting availability. However, this can be a dangerous game to play when you have wine to sell and you need income from it! Buyers can always pass on an incorrectly priced wine or vintage, leaving Chateau and trade with too much inventory. The Chateau secure their position by only giving an 'allocation' of their wines to merchants who bought in previous years - pass on a bad year and you'll miss the next fab vintage like 2000, 2005, 2009! There's a lot of short and long term gain to be had from receiving good allocations of these wines.

Though there's obviously a serious financial (greedy?) side to this, it's loads of fun observing the play and trying to call it right. I personally allow the height of my desire to actually consume the wine (!) to influence my buying decisions. Others couldn't care less about the juice and are purely sharking for good investments. The Chateau have hardly discouraged this despite their claims of purely 'expressing the soil'! I too must confess that, now as a merchant, I enjoy the duty of identifying the most suited EP wines for both purposes. Many consumers also get involved with both too-having risen in price, the resale wines end up paying for the drinking ones. TBC is itself perhaps one stage further on than that as I actually used EP purchases to start a small business. Collectors act as mini merchants and often re sell their EP wines to the very merchant who supplied it to them. I simply decided to be a merchant myself though I had a far wider remit than just selling futures. Anyway, you'd be surprised how many times great Bordeaux can be successfully marked up!Ducru Beaucaillou

When the demand is there things can go crazy like any stock market. Thankfully though, what I found as a novice was that, regardless of all the investment gambling and scary risk taking, EP still works as a simple opportunity to buy your favourite Chateau when there are plenty of new cases around at a decent price. Even with tranche releases, there's always a finite number so once you've grabbed what you want, you can sit back and wait for your merchant to bring the wine into the UK. A gentle pre-ordering system that becomes very satisfying if the wine increases in value! If it doesn't, you've still got some great wine to drink. Non investment Bordeaux still makes delicious drinking. Perhaps you didn't need to buy it early but that's not too much of a problem when it's washing down a juicy steak! It's used to be quite rare for prices to descend from their EP level though sadly I see it happening more & more these days. Usually when prices sink it represents a return to release levels following a surge but I have seen wines sold at auction at way below their release price. That's obviously a tad annoying for EP players but if you are prepared to hang onto wines for years, they become much sounder investments. In the best vintages, good returns can be made sooner but when the Bordelais completely misjudge demand the market will do it's thing and find it's own lower price. Collectors are very accomplished at swerving these wines and vintages though…it happened to me once but I was only down a wee bit! It doesn't take too long to become savvy and good merchants advise correctly when to avoid the hype. Still…as I say, be careful not to succumb to over aggressive marketing!

This brings me onto the issue of 'provenance,' a valuable commodity with the re-selling and ownership of Bordeaux. When eventually bottled, the EP wines imported directly from Bordeaux into Government Bonded warehouses like London City Bond have a desirable 100% provenance. Some collectors will not buy any wines that been released from these warehouses into the realms of being "Duty Paid". Many do though, and there is a very popular auction scene for classed Bordeaux. Of course serious collectors may have their own cellars to keep these expensive wines at the right temperature & humidity. You can never be sure where an auction wine has really been, though the catalogue will give some info. Cases of wine are now starting to be fitted with provenance technology that records the sort of temperatures they've been subjected too. Very handy, but I personally haven't found many problems with auction wines. Bordeaux in bottle, with a sound cork, is pretty robust but if you are thinking of selling on I would recommend opening a professional storage account for your EP wines to settle down in. TBC now has a 'customer reserve' storage option where I keep customers wines at LCB in a separate section of my account. This cost's £1 per case per month which is pretty reasonable compared to other storage options. I may have to increase it in future if it takes up too much of my time administering it! Ask me about it anyway if you're interested?

So how will the TBC 2015 campaign work? Well, firstly if you sign up to the TBC mailing list, you'll receive regular email offers from me. These come to you after the wine has been offered to TBC via La Place de Bordeaux, a network of independent French merchant-negociants. Different Chateau have exclusivities with different negoce so TBC needs various negociant accounts to make sure it's in the mix for a good cross section (ie-my favourite!!) releases! As well as offering you the EP wines and, (should you decide to buy) confirming your ownership of them via invoicing, I'll be also securing wines for TBC stock and my own private cellar. Not everything that I offer will be my personal choice, but I'm more than happy to secure other peoples favourites. I always try to give an unbiased opinion and the most significant ratings for the wines. Building your own Chateau allegiance is some of the best fun about it and I'm obviously happy to take as many orders as possible! Having said that, I'm always keen to advise to the best of my knowledge how I think a release is likely to physically and financially develop. I've been pretty good at it so far but I'm not an all seeing oracle! My best bottom line advice it to be prepared to drink it! It's only time that can realise the top returns and that's the carrot that buying EP dangles!

Here's how previous campaigns worked for me...Chateau Margaux Chai

2004- Without doubt a tricky vintage but the wines were correctly priced low by the Bordelaise. They therefore started to look very attractive when the highly priced 2005's hit the market and many of the med to high tier wines made positive price movements after a couple of years. However, I still regard the 04's as best for drinking rather than investing as the vintage perception is not strong enough to sustain long term stability. Similarly, the wines themselves may not last the course, with some glorious exceptions! Generally I have found that they are superb to drink now so why wait? The top wines will almost always have long aging potential though.
 
2005- Stunning wines from the one of the best vintages in modern times. On release, they seemed expensively priced by the Bordelaise, but time has proved that they mostly got it right. The wines are fabulous and very much for the long term with classy tannic structure. They have also increased in price considerably and though these did correct in line with the recession in 2008/9. They were back on the rise in 2012 but then descended again in 2013. This does make them again quite attractive to try catch them at the bottom? I bought heavily into this vintage and I'm very glad that I rode the stress of doing that! Tread carefully at the moment in 2014...but they are fantastic!

2006- After the giddy heights of the 05's, the Bordelaise tried to hype up a good, but unexceptional vintage. Consequently, they over priced on release. However, the wines sold though to the trade regardless and a lot of them have sold through now. I bought very sparingly on release and decided to wait it out, guessing that they would be the same price or lower with time. I purchased quite a few in 2009 & 2010 when the prices were reduced as much as I deemed possible. There may be a future in terms of investment as they do generally need more time in bottle. I'm drinking a few now and the stock I bought late is selling through nicely at fair, market adjusted, prices. When it becomes a properly drinkable it may increase but I think they are too young still.

2007-Not a vintage for the longterm in any way! However, the Bordelaise, pleased that they had been able to sell the so-so 06's to the trade at good prices (for them!), pulled the same trick and massively overpriced an inferior vintage to 06! This was a major error by them IMO. The trade, keen to keep up allocations, dutifully bought a fair few which they are now stuck with. The fallout is still being debated as was obvious that the only way for the 07's to sell is by heavily reducing the prices…but who takes the hit? In a positive light, many of them still make delicious short term drinking and when the inevitable reductions occur there will be some bargain opportunities for consumers. I have enjoyed tasting many and bought one or two cases in late 2010. At the time I was very keen to get on the ladder as an En Primeur merchant but seeing as TBC would have been instantly ruined by heavy 07 buying, I was forced to wait it out another year. Thank god I did because...


2008- Hurray! Bordeaux returned to sensible pricing after messing things up for the wine trade in the past two years. To be fair to them, any business has a right to achieve the best price possible for it's wares and that's all they were doing…but it could also be argued that they were biting the hand that feeds them! Anyway, 2008 was generally a hard year in the vineyard but some excellent weather in the later growing season helped produce nice, if variable wines. The Bordelaise, now worried about a major boycott due to the 06 & 07 issues and the global recession, responded with (dare I say it!) incredibly cheap prices for very decent wines! I saw it as a good opportunity to join the circus and jumped on in a restrained manner, knowing that the recession would limit sales. In hindsight I should have jumped in further as the 09's were released expensive and now the 08's look very attractive investments. There is some debate as to their longevity though. There's still plenty more life in this vintage anyway…it'll be fun being involved though I wish I had bought more wine at release price! I'm buying more now here & there at higher than release prices.
 

2009 The 09's are awesome in quality, especially on the left bank. There was a near perfect growing season and the Chateau were able to produce rich, supple and strangely immediate wines with heaps of velvet tannin and fruit. What a prospect we have for the future too! I've tasted some three or four times and have been increasingly blown away. However, the top drawer conditions led to a few over extractions at some (mostly Right Bank) properties so it's perhaps not as uniformly successful as 2005. The prices are expensive but the personally I think that's fair enough when the wines are this good. Quality has to be rewarded though I wish that also worked the other way round more regularly! The big question for consumers is 'will they rise like the 05's did or simply remain at a high static level?' 'Should I buy these wines early? I think my advice at this stage will be to say a cautious 'yes' but don't expect huge returns in the short term. Unless you nabbed one of the 19 100/100 pointers by Robert Parker that is. In March 2012, when he released his final scores these wines went through the roof in price! Doubling in some cases but I'm not sure if these prices are sustainable. I was pleased for TBC customers who bought wines like Leoville Poyferre 2009 for £900 ish (expensive at the time) which increased to  soon £1700 after...dropped  since but still great long term investments. If you're into wine, great vintages like 2009 have to be bought sometime so I was prepared to jump in whilst avoiding wines that I guessed I'd be stuck with for years. I did avoid one or two of my favorites which was hard for me to do!! The prices for 09 were softening in 2015 so tread carefully & try & catch them at the bottom of the dip. The Chateau are using their huge returns from this vintage on cellar, vineyard & property improvements. There's new flashy cellars everywhere in Bdx now.

2010 The weather afforded the Bordelais another superb vintage but sadly many then decided not to 'afford' us the same in return! Another mistake IMO but of course the Bordelais have their own agenda & reasons for doing it. It was more 2005 in style than 2009 (more tannic structure) and if judged purely on drinking terms, another surefire vintage to own next to the stylistically different 2009's. Both top notch - but just different. I was very worried that the market couldn't sustain some of the insane prices released by the top Chateau & that they may well be cheaper further down the line. I therefore advised the ereing of extreme caution to TBC customers but, as the vintage was so strong, it really was worth EP buying of some of the lovely Petit Chateau & medium level Cru Chateau that didn't (couldn't!) overprice. Not all the top Chateau were unreasonable too...there's so many Ch in Bdx that I find there's nearly always a way forward in terms of buying. A lot of the bad feeling about prices eventually filtered back to Chateau & that added a certain spice the 2011 campaign...what did they do...??

2011 Well...they mostly cocked it up again and couldn't bring themselves to release at the necessary 2008 level. Some did though & there were some bargains especially in Pomerol & with the white Bordeaux's & Sauternes. These were on the whole exceptional quality & great wines to buy...but people mainly come to Bdx for the Clarets. I had to do some canny off the record deals to offer good purchases to TBC customers. As I say...there's always a way forward with the volume of wine they have to sell! In style, the wines are quite similar to the 2001's & the better 2007's. A bit medium bodied & lighter reds but nice full, complex whites. I like vintages like this for drinking & I bought a few wines that were half the price of the 2010's. I'm not sure I needed to buy them early but I did anyway if I thought the price/quality was good enough. It's always worth having a few & see what happens...but this is not an investment vintage... Just a fresh drinking one for now but let's see what happens with it?

2012 was better in quality than 2011 & I think will be a lovely drinking vintage. The Bordelais tried to come down in price but couldn't force themselves to go down to the required 2008 level. Prices were OK by some estates & I picked a few that I thought were reasonable. It's not really an investment vintage at this stage. I think it's going to be loved a bit more further down the line. I find many of these are drinking well already in 2016.

2013 This was a very tough vintage & behind 11 & 12 in quality so the Bordelais really needed to reduce the prices further to make a market. But sadly most didn't, or not enough. 1/2 did get it right. There are some amazing quality dry whites Sauternes though...up there with the best sweet white vintages like 01, 07 & 11. One or 2 reds were priced OK. It's another 07 or worse though. 20 years ago they might well have been forced to write off the whole vintage for the reds

2014...2014 was the best vintage since 2010. I think this has a fine drinking future but it's probably not an investment vintage. The Bordelaise have clearly annoyed a lot of their loyal customers by incorrect pricing. The medium priced £20-£30 Ch are definitely worth owning as there really isn't much price leeway for the Ch to overprice at this level...it costs what it costs & it's a fair price for it. Despite some delicious wine there was only only one or two of the top en Ch that were worth buying early. I find that EP @ TBC is more & more just working as a gentle early ordering system than an investment vehicle. The Bordelais seem to have nearly choked their golden goose...but can 2015 breath air into it?

2015. The wines are high quality & buying EP turned out to be a good idea (so far!) with Brexit hitting the UK £ very hard at the end of the campaign. This was crucially after many wines had been purchased by EP buyers & hopefuuly the merchants had done so too in terms of buying €! It started slowly but one or two highly scored & desirable wines kick started demand & the floodgates were open after than for good trading. These wines should be owned & are for the long term. Wines at opening prices are undoubted value.

2016??...the first post Brexit vintage..a weak £ is a problem going into the campaign but the wines are very charming, nuanced & desirable. But when to buy them?? The Bordelais are cock a hoop about what they've produced from a difficult growing season & prices are likely to be high. This coupled with the exchange rate issue could be a real problem...

 


May the best Vin win!!