As the en primeur campaign gets fully underway, there has been one particular phenomenon that has so far been under-reported, but it highly significant.
All the headlines, and the huge number of complaints on Twitter and elsewhere, are aimed at the price rises that we are yet again seeing after the record prices set in 2009 (also, of course, declared a vintage of the century). Among the biggest culprits so far are Chateau Pontet Canet (up nearly 40% to Ä100; maybe the only estate that can get away with it) and Chateau Boyd Cantenac up nearly 30% to Ä44.80 (I could go on, see: http://newbordeaux.com/documents/release_prices.html )
But there is an emerging trend of certain chateaux being far more reasonable, and keeping their prices the same as 2009. Even more surprising, these are classified chateaux Ė not from the Medoc, but over on the other side of the river, in Saint Emilion.
Among the classified St Emilions that have kept their prices the same as 2009 are:
Ch La Clotte
Clos St Martin
Ch Grand Corbin
Ch Grand Pontet
Ch Grand Murailles
There are still some crazy price hikes over in St Emilion (Faugeres and Peby Faugeres anyone?), and of course Angelus/Cheval Blanc/Ausone are not out yet, but it is notable that the classified wines between the two banks have wildly diverged this year. No more Ďkeeping up with the Jonesí on the Right Bank, where they have suffered from the Chinese obsession with 1855 estates (for other issues arising from this, see http://newbordeaux.com/documents/bordeaux_and_china.html ). Bordeaux is often decried for caring more about Ďfaceí in front of the neighbours than market reality, but clearly there has been a dose of market reality in recent years over on the Right Bank, and most are responding. I hope they get rewarded for it.
Something else interesting is happening over in Saint Emilion, and I am sure that the two things are linked. There is a growing clamour from the top estates that the rules of the classification be relaxed to allow expansion of Classified estates. This is because they see one of the reasons for the Left Bankís rapid price rises is due to their ability to buy more land, bottle more wine, and therefore put more marketing muscle and distribution behind their brands.
There are all kinds of signs that producers are gearing up for this to happen. The new chai at Cheval Blanc, for example, will have capacity for more wine than they currently produce, and the same is true of all recent building projects. And it was announced in the last few days that the Wertheimer family, owners of luxury goods house Chanel, and Ch‚teau Rauzan Segla in Margaux, have bought the neighbouring estate of their classified Saint Emilion property Ch‚teau Canon. The 12-hectare Ch‚teau Matras, also a classified growth, was purchased for Ä8 million, in a deal that valued the land at Ä600,000 per hectare (far less than recent classifed Saint Emilion purchases, that have reached up to Ä1 million per hectare). They have said they want to use all their 22 hectare Canon for the first wine, and use Matras for the second wine, Clos Canon. This is a great strategy for boosting production and therefore brand value of Canon within the existing rules, but also allows, once again, for easy adjustment if the rules do relax.
It's a brave person who places a bet on Saint Emilion sorting out their political differences over this one, but there are some big names behind the change. And this campaign yet again is proving how the 1855 Medoc wines are fully in the driving seat right now. Their prices rises will just be making the big named Saint Emilions ever more resolute to level the playing field.