Supermarket wine bargains raise hackles in France
8 October 2007, BORDEAUX (AFP) - Wine-lovers across France are crowing over bargains picked up this year at the annual round of supermarket wine fairs, but the hackles of chateaux owners are yet to settle.
8 October 2007
BORDEAUX (AFP) - Wine-lovers across France are crowing over bargains picked up this year at the annual round of supermarket wine fairs, but the hackles of chateaux owners are yet to settle.
The big stores for their part are patting themselves on the back.
Twenty five percent of annual wine sales in France take place nowadays during these wine fairs -- or "Foire aux Vins" as they are known -- said Guillaume Halley, director of the Champion supermarket in Bordeaux.
"We generally sell about five million bottles during the two-week wine fair," Halley said. "This year we noticed that volume is going down and value is going up with the 2005 vintage on the shelves, because everyone knows it is such a great year."
Wine fairs have been a feature of the French supermarket calendar since the 1980s, but, said Halley, they only really took off in the late 1990s.
Now they are so well known for bargains that one of the problems, he said, was limiting wholesale wine merchants, from both France and neighbouring countries, particularly Britain, from buying up the best wines at bargain basement prices, only to resell them for double.
"The profit on a bottle of top Bordeaux during the wine fair is between zero and five per cent," he said. "A wine merchant will come in and buy, for example, a bottle of Lafite Rothschild 2004 for 129 euros, and then he can turn around and sell it for between 250 and 300 euros."
In the United States, the same bottle can cost up to 600 or more dollars (400 or more euros), according to the Wine-searcher.com price comparison search engine.
Supermarkets use the most prestigious wines sold during these fairs as "loss leaders," knowing that clients who come in to buy one or two bottles of top names such as Lafite or Cheval Blanc, will end up buying other more day-to-day wines, and possibly other items.
"The average price of a bottle of wine sold during the wine fair in Carrefour for example is 10 euros. Here at Champion it is 4.50 euros," Halley said.
In an attempt to stop wholesale merchants ruining the chances for individual consumers -- who are after all more important as clients -- supermarkets have taken to limiting purchases of bottles of the very best wines to one or two bottles.
Other notably good deals this year -- as catalogued by British-born PR consultant Jim Brough, who recently moved to France with his wife and set up a web-based newsletter on French life called Frenglish -- have been bottles of Chateau Lafite's second wine, Carruades de Lafite 2005, selling at 43s euro a bottle, compared to about 97 euros in Britain, including VAT and duty.
In the United States the same bottle, according to Wine-searcher, is selling for 150 dollars per bottle (about 105 euros).
Brough also picked up a case of Chateau Leoville Barton 2004 at 455 euros (about 305 pounds) compared to about 638 euros (441 pounds) in Britain, including VAT and duty.
Another of Latour second wine, Les Forts de Latour 2004, went for 719 euros (482 pounds) a case compared to a British price of about 1,173 euros (811 pounds).
At Brough's local Auchan supermarket, purchases were limited to one case of each.
For chateaux owners however, who have to deal with complaints from traditional customers, this time of year is problematic.
"The ones that complain are retailers and restaurants," said Barbara Engerer at Chateau Paloumey, a good quality medium range wine grown in Bordeaux's Medoc area.
"And our private customers might complain too, since buying our wine at the 'foire' is more interesting than directly from the estate," she said.
For Engerer, the bargain sales are a double-edged sword.
"On one side we are quite happy to have sold volumes 'en primeur' (wine that is pre-sold in bulk six months after the harvest and two years before it is bottled), which is very difficult in off vintages, so we can't be too picky where it's going to, especially when we sold it at a reasonable rate to the merchant," she said.
"The bad side is we have absolutely no control of the price. The hypermarkets might sell them at near zero margins which is very bad for the image of the Chateau," she said.
Subject: French news