Did China really save Bordeaux?

In the run to the start of the Bordeaux futures campaign for the 2010 vintage, commentators, negociants and estates were all bullish about its blockbuster potential. Prices were set to rise and, although many loyal American buyers were expected to pass or to explore the cheaper petit chateaux market, it was hoped the Chinese would pick up the slack and pay record prices leading to record profits. In reality, the situation is not quite as clear cut.

Where famous names like Pontet-Canet, Pichon-Baron, Beychevelle and Grand-Puy-Lacoste easily attracted buyers, other brands with less name recognition in China and Hong Kong such as Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Rauzan-Ségla and Figeac have struggled.

The top end of the Chinese and Hong Kong futures market for Bordeaux relies heavily on a culture of gift giving. The Chinese will make a present of a bottle or a case of Grand Classe Bordeaux to a business partner or government official and the most important part of this exchange is the recognition of the brand by the party receiving the gift. If the label isn’t a famous one, the gift giver will lose face.

This top heavy demand has lead to sellers insisting buyers purchase less famous brands in job lots along with their more well known competitors. This has meant a great deal of panic discounting and a level of toxicity creeping into the market.

Although profits were healthy enough there is a worry that only 89% of cases were sold. The Chinese buyers were said to be disgruntled by having to buy wine they didn’t actually want and were puzzled by the disorganised tempo of the campaign. Bordeaux must be aware, as it takes the unusual step of abandoning loyal customers in Europe and America for the perceived riches of the Far East, that many investors would just as happily move their money into other industries if they see a better profit to be made elsewhere. The estates would be wise not to burn too many bridges with their traditional markets.


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