US losing stature with Bordeaux wine producers

2nd April 2008, Comments 0 comments

Fewer US buyers than usual turned up in Bordeaux this week for wine primeur week but producers surprisingly are not too concerned.

   BORDEAUX, France, April 2, 2008 - Fewer US buyers than usual turned
up in Bordeaux this week for wine primeur week -- when buyers and critics
taste the latest wine harvest -- but producers surprisingly are not too
   "America is not the world, it is a bit bigger than that," said Patrick
Maroteaux, president of the Union des Grands Cru de Bordeaux, organiser of the annual primeur tastings, which take place six months after the harvest and two years before bottling.
   "Europe is a significant market, as is Asia," he said.
   Going one step beyond their oft repeated complaint that Americans only buy
primeurs in top quality speculative years, so more for profit than drinking,
producers now happily say they are no longer dependant on the US market.
   "It has happened in about the last two years, on the good side people
realised there were new customers from Asia, Russia and India," said Didier
Marcelis a Bordeaux producer at a tasting in St Emilion on Monday.
   "And on the other side there has been the euro dollar problem. So we
started realizing we shouldn't rely on the Americans," said Marcelis, who
spent 20 years working for IBM and Cisco before buying Chateau Serilhan in
Bordeaux's St Estephe region in 2003. "It is not complicated though, it is
just Darwinism."
   Dramatic changes in consumption patterns are clear in emerging markets.
   In 2007, Bordeaux exported 43,000 hectolitres to China, 82 percent more
than in 2006. That volume was worth 45 million euros (70 million dollars), an
increase of 158 percent.
   One Chinese buyer at the Monday tasting, Steven Lu, said he would be buying
about double what he bought last year, of both un-bottled primeurs for stock,
and bottled wine for the Olympics. Lu, who has a small import business selling
to upmarket hotels and restaurants, as well as private clients, says his
customer list has doubled in the last two years.
   In 2007, Bordeaux also exported 38,500 hectolitres to South Korea, an
increase of 40 percent for a value of 29 million euros, up 66 percent, while
Singapore got 15,000 hectolitres, a 94 percent increase, worth 23.5 million
euro, up 33 percent.
   By comparison wine exports to America in 2007 were down nine percent in
value, albeit for a more significant sum of 196 million euros.
   The US market is driven by point scores though, so a lot will depend on
those of US critic Robert Parker, who is in Bordeaux this week to taste both
the 2007 vintage, and re-taste the now bottled 2005s.
   "If I get a good Parker score, which makes it so easy to sell my wines,
that is great," said Marcelis. However if he gets a bad one, or none, sales to
the US are very difficult.
   Parker's points will not be available for two to three months, and the
majority of Bordeaux primeur producers will wait till after their publication
to release their prices. So although the Bordelaise may talk about America not
being a make or break market any more, it would be unimaginable for them to
release prices before the make or break scores of this particular American are
   As the figures show though, emerging markets on their own will not replace
America, which is set to overtake France as the world's number one consumers
of wine, per person per head, in the next year or two. So hopes are also high
for European and domestic French buyers, particularly those from the
   Fabrice Matysiak, a buyer for Auchan, one of France's top three
supermarkets, described 2007 as interesting. "We came with lead boots to find,
yes some bad wines, but some good ones too," he said. "But they will have to
lower their prices from the 2006 vintage," he said, admitting freely that this
was inevitably round one of negotiations.
   There are producers of course who have welcomed US buyers already this
week, and they prefer to say that in 2007, as in 2004 and 2001, all less than
great vintages, one sees fewer but better buyers.
   Asked his opinion about US markets this year, US-born Bordeaux-based wine
merchant Jeffrey Davies put it more straightforwardly. "Frankly, I would
imagine that in America people will be reaching for the vodka, rather than the
Lafite right now," he said.


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