On the Trail

BORDEAUX AT K&L

Whereas with producers in other wine regions of the world we are able to work directly, purchasing the bottles right from the source, Bordeaux has had a courtier system in place since the 1600s that involves a series of brokers and middlemen who help the many chateaux bring their wines to the public. For centuries the people in charge of making the wine rarely managed the bottling or selling of it (the same can be said for Scotch whisky and Cognac with the blending houses), and the negociants were the people who handled the business side—warehousing the wine, keeping inventory, and handling exportation. While a number of chateaux today do some direct sales, about 80% of all Bordeaux is still sold via this system. With forty years of industry experience under our belt, K&L is fortunate enough to have deep relationships with top producers and influential negociants from whom we're able to purchase directly, avoiding distribution margins stateside.

Each vintage when the grapes are harvested, and the wine has been vinified and put into barrel, the negotiants purchase allocations from the various chateaux which will are then made available to retailers via the en premeur system—a system of futures that offers allocations of each wine years in advance of delivery. As a merchant, K&L travels to Bordeaux each year to taste the wines from the barrel, make evaluations, and then decide how much to purchase based on the strength of the vintage and the quality of the liquid. In some cases we are able to purchase new inventory directly from the chateau itself, while other times we might reserve futures from a broker, or even buy older wines from back vintages still located in a negociant's warehouse. There are very few retailers in the U.S. that have both the ability to both purchase directly and control their own importation. By going direct we’re able to get pricing at the same level of a distributor, passing along those savings to our customers. We are often keen to revisit wines from the "off" vintages as we love finding a great deal. But it's the long-standing relationships that truly set K&L apart from other retailers. After forty years, we have a level of access that is unprecedented for an American company.