I did a ring round of several merchants in England and the United States yesterday for an update on 09 pricing for Decanter magazine. As we are now pretty much halfway through the campaign, and a number of big names have started to come out (the best source for keeping track of this, by the way, is @livex on twitter.com), it's a good time to see if momentum is now switching up a gear. Generally, merchants are saying that despite pricing, most wines are finding homes (although see this story http://www.decanter.com/news/news.php?id=298994 for a few warning signs).
What is undisputed is that the prices coming out are higher than most people expected at the beginning of the campaign, even with the undoubted quality and scores. So I would share the particularly interesting opinions of Shaun Bishop at JJ Buckley Fine Wines in San Francisco, as to the motivation behind these high prices.
'I would say in general, the customer frenzy is less than it was in 2008. In 08 there was a compelling reason to put up your cash immediately for what was preceived as an above average vintage that had critical acclaim but the prices were very good. It's harder for us to make a commercial argument for the 09s because although the critical reaction was of course great, the prices have more than matched that.'
'The 09 campaign has been governed by the motivation from the chateaux owners, and their motivation is not to sell the vintage out, but to price it so that us merchants, and ultimately our consumers, will buy older vintages. Clearly there is a lot of back wine in the system in Bordeaux, and the primary motivation of this pricing is to help clear out out these back vintages. The 09s can sit in Bordeaux without a problem, because the quality of the wine is only going to improve; but the prices are making the 08s look appealing, and that is having an effect on purchasing. And as the 08 vintage goes up in price, the 07s may start to look better value.'
'08 pricing has now started to go up, and some wines have sold out that only three weeks ago were available (such as Pontet Cantet, Montrose, Haut Bailly, Larcis Ducasse, Leoville Las Cases) - all the wines that people know are going to be high priced with their 2009s.'
'Before the campaign, most people expected prices of this vintage to be somewhere around 2006 - somewhere between 08 and 05. What has happened that it is significantly above 08, but also at least 10% above 05 in the majority of cases. I don't believe the Bordelais care that the wines won't sell out this year, because this is one of those few exceptional years when the press say 'vintage of a lifetime'. They are taking the opportunity that has been given to them.'
'They know who their customers are ultimately, and that is the negociants. And they know that if negociants don't have the cash to bankroll their wines, they need to sell through the unsold 08s, 07s and 06s. The system is somewhat fragile at the moment, and credit is more valuable than ever, and the Bordelais understand that, and have to make sure that businesses within the Bordeaux system are making money. In 2005 we saw the same thing; price the wines high and sell through back vintages.'
'In the US, I do think they will buy the expensive wines, but in 08 they wouldn't hesistate on buying a case. This year they still donít want to miss out, but probaly want only 3 to 6 bottles. The recovery in the States is happening more at the high end, which will help the desire for these wines. The middle class hasn't really recovered yet, but those with more money are leading the recovery, and things are looking more stable than they did a year ago. The fascinating wines to watch will be will be those who were awarded 97-100 but are usually around 40 dollars - where will they go with their pricing?
'From what I have seen, Asia hasn't yet come through in this campaign to the extent that people expected. They may well buy 20 key wines, but that is not going to help the health of the Bordeaux marketplace.'
'The Bordelais are not afraid to take prices up and down, because they have decades of building brands so they are able to. The rest of the worldís wines have a much more stable price market because the brand are not as strong.'