Bordeaux 2014: Chinese importers encouraged by vintage, but expect low-key en primeur campaign

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Despite a ‘positive’ market impression on the Bordeaux 2014 vintage, importers in China are expecting another low-key en primeur campaign this year.

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While investors are becoming ‘more demanding’ on pricing, more end consumers are starting to buy en primeur for consumption, said importers.

After three consecutive sluggish campaigns, Chinese importers are having mixed feelings about buying en primeur, while some of them have started to gradually retrieve from the campaign.

‘The “buzz” on the 2014 vintage seems positive but the market sentiment is not strong,’ said John Watkins, CEO of ASC Fine Wines, ‘At the right release prices, we expect the response by our customers to be reasonably positive but far lower than past campaigns.’

‘(We expect) the quality of 2014 vintage to be better than the 2013, but around the same price,’ Dixon Jiang Yuan, CEO and Founder of YesMyWine, told DecanterChina.com, ‘therefore, we will spend more effort (marketing) the 2014 campaign.’

Buying en primeur since 2005, ASC Fine Wines said that for the 2014 campaign, the company will stick to the same strategy as previous years, which means the company will buy for its own cellars while buying based on its consumers’ demands.

Online retailer YesMyWine joined the en primeur sales from 2010, featuring its ‘by the bottle’ service. Since the 2012 vintage, the company started to sell 24 hours after the price release in France, according to the company website.

Yuan confirmed that the company will continue to adopt this model for the 2014 campaign.

Another Chinese importer, Aussino, which launched its en primeur business in 2011, said it’s still ‘early days’ to announce its en primeur strategy for this year.

‘The en primeur market is fluctuating enormously in recent years,’ said a spokesperson of Aussino, ‘we will make decisions on our strategy based on the quality and price [of the 2014 vintage], as well as the exchange rate.’

The importer confirmed that it will not participate in the 2014 en primeur week.

One of the biggest beverage wholesalers in China, the Shanghai-based Nanpu Food, said it hasn’t made a decision on purchasing the 2014 vintage either, but added that it will consider buying ‘if both the price and the quality are right’.

‘Besides the first growths and a few super-seconds, we will also choose some good value Grand Cru Classe chateaux,’ said Yuan, ‘we may even include some Cru Bourgeois.’

‘Our selection includes the wines we sell the best in the mainland China and HK market, which accounts for more than 60% of the Grand Cru business,’ said Watkins. He added that there has been a trend for consumers to explore the ‘hidden gems’ outside the popular labels.

ASC is also considering selling by the bottle, said Watkins, ‘but [we] may suggest a bigger format packed in one OWC’.

Speaking of the company’s en primeur sales in the previous 3 years, Watkins told DecanterChina.com the overall market and ASC’s customers demand for the 2013 vintage were ‘below 2012’, adding that the 2012 campaign did better than 2011 both in value and volume.

Due to the uncertainty of the market, Aussino said that en primeur investment is still ‘high-risk’ for individuals to participate ‘blindly’.

‘In recent years, our clients [buying en primeur] are mostly importers and professional investors,’ the spokesperson said.

There were also positive trends, however, in consumer behaviour, despite the three difficult campaigns, said the importers.

‘While customers are still composed of investors and final consumers, the latter portion has increased,’ said Watkins.

‘When we first started (in 2010), our main customers were investors,’ Yuan agrees, ‘however, recently mainly individuals are buying en primeur for personal consumption.’

YesMyWine didn’t give figures on the en primeur sales of the previous three vintages. But Yuan added that a comparatively lower price was the biggest reason for end consumers to buy these vintages en primeur.

‘Take the 2013 vintage as an example,’ said Yuan, ‘although it’s not that satisfying for the investors, a lower price made it approachable to ordinary consumers. Some of them are buying bottles of Lafite and keeping them for their children when they grow up.’

‘Actually I think Chinese consumers can accept en primeur very well,’ said Lin Jianhua, President and CEO of Nanpu Food, told DecanterChina.com.

‘For the majority of consumers, when speaking of wine, they will think of Bordeaux first,’ said Lin, ‘if they can get the wines they desire at a better price, they would go for it.’

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