Navigating Bordeaux 2017

The Bordeaux market is delicately balanced

The general mood around En Primeur has improved from the nadir of 2013. Returns from recent campaigns have been mostly positive, potentially helping to rebuild confidence in the system. However, it has become increasingly important to buy selectively: as we argued last year, En Primeur is for ‘the few not the many’ even in successful campaigns such as 2015 and 2016. The trade is now primarily interested in the top 30 or so most in-demand wines. These are typically the wines that are highly scored, keenly priced and can be difficult to source in the primary market. 

The Bordeaux market is delicately balanced 

Bordeaux’s market share has been on the decline, reaching a low share of 68% by value last year. Although prices have been steady, the region has not performed as well other areas of the wine market such as Burgundy or Italy. The 2005, 2009 and 2010 vintages of the First Growths in particular have been sluggish over the past twelve months as they move towards their previous peaks. Despite the First Growth slowdown, demand for their second wines continues to be high. Other wines performing well include highly scored wines from the 2015 vintage which have in some instances doubled in price since release. 

2017 is heterogeneous vintage in terms of quantity and quality 

The main talking point in the build-up to this campaign has been the impact of late spring frosts - the worst since 1991 - that have drastically reduced the overall Bordeaux yield. It appears that much of the damage has occurred to vineyards that supply the lower-priced end of the market, rather than the fine wine segment; certain communes on the Left Bank such as Pauillac, St-Julien, and St-Estephe were hardly touched. Early critical commentary seems to suggest that the combination of frost in certain areas alongside an otherwise relatively good growing season has led to a heterogeneous vintage. With recent movements in the world of wine criticism, there may be some divergence of opinion over which are the wines to buy, quality-wise. 

Bordeaux is back…. in Bordeaux 

The question of how much wine is being produced versus how much is then coming to market is a crucial one. For the last two years, despite above average production volumes, many of the top chateaux have been holding back more and more of their production for sale beyond En Primeur. The purpose of this strategy, and its long-term impact on the market, is not entirely clear. On the one hand it may simply be part of a normal restocking cycle. On the other, it is possible that the strategy of restricting supply is intended to help maintain price levels. 

It's all in the price 

The interests of different constituents of the supply chain may diverge on the issue of volume. If wine critics deem the 2017s to be below average, the chateaux will want to sell as much stock now at the highest possible price, which could leave either negociants or international merchants with stock they are unable to sell. On the other hand, if the wine is deemed to be above average, it’s likely that merchants might struggle to get their hands on stock that is being withheld to sell in the future for a higher price. Whichever way this goes, as always, the right price will be crucial for the success of the wines in the market.


The fine wine market: Bordeaux in context 

Last year was positive for the fine wine market. All the Liv-ex indices rose in 2017, though at a much more modest pace than in 2016. The Fine Wine 1000 – the broadest measure of the fine wine market – was the best performing index, rising 11.3%. It is currently at an all-time high. Among the sub-indices the Burgundy 150 had its best year in a decade, climbing 23.9%. 

By way of comparison, the Bordeaux 500 index rose 7.8% and the Fine Wine 50, which tracks the prices of the First Growths, was up 5.3%. 

A fluctuating exchange rate affected the level of demand in the Bordeaux market. The Fine Wine 50 was particularly susceptible to exchange rate movement for the majority of the 2017, largely rising and falling along with sterling’s movement against the euro and the dollar. 

The start of 2018 has largely seen these themes continue: the Fine Wine 50 is up 0.2% year to date while the broader market, represented by the Liv-ex 1000, has gained 1.33%. Currency volatility has subsided, but the weaker dollar has dampened demand from the Far East and the US, undoubtedly contributing to faltering price momentum.


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