On the Trail

Bordeaux 2016: An En Primeur Week Intro

Clyde Beffa Jr.
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We're heading for Bordeaux this weekend to taste the 2016 vintage and make our assessments. As we leave for the trip, a few things stand out:

1) I planned this trip around July of last year and at that time the weather had been terrible—so wet in May and June that there was standing water in the vineyards. There were whispers of another 2013. I had assumed that the flowering was very uneven and drawn out and that the vintage could be a bust, so I condensed what is normally a ten day trip down to eight days.

2) But it looks like we may have another miracle vintage in Bordeaux and because we have fewer days in the region we will have to deal with long days of tasting many wines. The hype is sky high right now, probably because the rumors were so bad early on. People are saying that this is in realm of 2009 and 2010 in terms of quality, but I have to see or taste it to believe it. Better than 2015? Historically, back-to-back blockbusters have spelled trouble for pricing and therefore our ability to get people excited about Bordeaux. 

3) Thus, I am worried about the pricing. The same thing happened in 2009/10. They thought the success of the 2009 vintage would mean continued momentum in 2010, but that wasn't the case and higher costs led to decreased sales.

These three points now have me thinking about a few other things:

1) I remember back in 1987 when we tasted the 1986 vintage. In fact, I am bringing my old 1987 notebook to write my notes in this year. I just recently looked at the July 1987 K&L newsletter that I also have with me. I mentioned back then how I was worried about the pricing and therefore I only listed fifteen wines to buy. The 1986s were priced above the 1985s and the en primeur campaign was not great.

2) I remember back in 1997 when we tasted the 1996s, coming off the fantastic 1995 vintage; the 1996s were priced above the 1995s and the campaign was also not great.

3) I also remember 2007 when we tasted 2006s (just a good vintage). They were priced only a bit lower than the great 2005s and it turned out to be a disaster of a campaign.

4) I remember 2011 when we tasted the great 2010s, right off the back of 2009. Some were priced higher than the great 2009s and the campaign fizzled as a result. 

5) So now it's 2017 and we're tasting what looks like another back-to-back duo as with the previous examples. What will happen with the pricing of the 2016s? I'm hearing rumors the châteaux will raise their prices, but by how much? Too much and we could have another disasterous campaign just like the ones I mentioned above. I'm hoping they'll finally learn from history. 

Remember that last year the 2015s came out at increased prices over 2014, but they were far more reasonable early on in the campaign (and we sold quite a bit of them). Then that fateful Monday hit when Pichon Baron opened too high and the Northern Mèdoc guys followed suit. That marked the end of the campaign for us. Our customers bought the value wines and ignored the late openers. As a result, the 2014 vintage is attracting new interest with better pricing and a reassessment of quality.

We shall see what happens this time around. We'll keep you updated from the road.

-Clyde Beffa Jr.