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Did the 2014 En-primeur bring fine wine buyers back into the market?

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The much anticipated 2014 en primeur campaign is, after nearly two months, finally over. Some called it a potential watershed event for the wine industry – a “make or break” moment to attract both new and established players back into the investment market. Following three consecutive campaigns which both underperformed initial expectations and failed to pique interest among investors, collectors and négociants, it was critical that the 2014 campaign save a shaky en primeur system from collapse due to inconsistent quality and unrealistic pricing. While most agreed that this year’s event definitely presented some quality fare at more approachable prices, the general consensus was that it still had significant room for improvement. With disappointment looming, the question on everyone’s minds remained: Can the en primeur system survive?

One buzzworthy surprise came from the revered Chateau Lafite Rothschild. With a release price of around €285 per bottle ex-Bordeaux, it avoided an increase from 2013, and ran a 12% decrease from 2012. Of course, this attractive price point came with a caveat, making the excitement short-lived: the 2014 Lafite quantities were considerably smaller than hoped for. Faced with limited availability, merchants were either hung out to dry when it came to direct Bordeaux offers, or totally retreated from offering sales to customers for fear of not being able to acquire and deliver adequate stock. Top tier, well-established merchants were particularly disenchanted, as the quantities offered by Chateau Lafite were simply too small to sell on.  Some went so far to say that there are no justifications for such scenarios during an en primeur campaign, lending additional credence to the belief that the system is on borrowed time.

As with any en primeur campaign, comparisons to the last similarly rated vintages – in this case, 2006 and 2008 – were inevitable. Some 2014s held their own or better against the competition, with 2014 Mouton Rothschild coming in at prices nearly 28% less than the 2006 and 2008 offerings, and 2014 Fleur Petrus at almost 24% less, earning them a second look. On the other hand, many more were less appealing to the potential investor: both the Cheval Blanc and the Grand Puy Lacoste were priced at over 17% more than their 2006 and 2008 sisters; the 2014 Mission Haut Brion increased by 11% as compared to 2006 and 2008; and the 2014 Montrose was a stunning 56% more than its strongest recent competitors.

With buyers losing money on en primeur investments over the last five years, it’s only reasonable that they’re gun-shy about opening their wallets. Pundits suggested that overall, the 2014 prices, limited quantities and mediocre quality compromised more robust trading from taking place among investors during the campaign. While it’s true that most prices were better than past years, incentive to invest in these unfinished wines still lacked. The old school speculation mentality that characterized past en primeur markets has been replaced by sheer affection for certain chateaux. As a result, in contrast to the drop in aggressive investments by seasoned investors, consumer acquisitions were steady and comparable to past years.

Without the appropriate incentive of buying at a good price and confidence in what the investment will bring 10 years down the road, the verdict still remains: the 2014 en primeurs don’t have enough to offer serious investors to sign up. These wines will very likely be available in a few more years at the same price (or less), and with a more stable outlook once in bottle. 

And, with older, more valued wines with notably higher scores and competitive prices ready for purchase, it’s obvious that the better investment is in something more secure.  Our advice?  Sit tight, and at least for now, give the 2014 en primeurs a pass.

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