What are Wine Futures?

The Bordeaux Futures campaign, sometimes called En-Primeur, is a way of purchasing the most highly-sought after Bordeaux wines and vintages while they are still in a barrel, offering the customer the opportunity to invest in a particular wine before it is bottled and released on the market. Payment is made at an early stage, from 18 to 24 months before each wine is bottled. Delivery is possible from 24 months at the minimum after the release of the Bordeaux wine Futures price.

Some Historical Facts

The largest fine wine vineyard in the world. Falling on the 45th Parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, Bordeaux is blessed with temperate winters and long, warm summers that are ideal for growing grapes. Taking advantage of the excellent terroir, micro-climates and unique history of the Aquitaine region, Bordeaux has long set the standard for fine wine around the world, a standard it continues to uphold today. But history has not always been smooth sailing for Bordeaux. After the golden era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Bordeaux was ravaged by the phylloxera crisis of the late 1800s. Entire vineyards were wiped out and the vines were saved only after being grafted to phylloxera resistant American rootstock. Then again in the 1970s, Bordeaux was faced with a severe economic crisis. Many chateaus were forced to sell to corporate backers. Others turned to producing second wines, which are made from the same crop and in the same style, but eliminate waste as they are made with wine left over from the primary assemblage.

These hard times also brought about the rise of the Futures, system in the early 1980s.

The Futures system was created more than 200 years ago by the British and was only available for the negoce. It is only since the 1980’s that it has been open to private customers. This system enables the estates to sell their wine through allocations before the wine has been bottled. The readily available funds from these sales are then used for operational and production expenses for the next year. Bordeaux is the only wine region in the world to use the Futures System through a close market called the “place de Bordeaux”. It was created by the English in the early 80’s and rapidly became one of the pillars of Bordeaux Wine Negoce. The estates sell most of their production to one of the 400 negociants registered in the “place de Bordeaux” through brokers (called “courtier” in French). From the 400 negociants on the place de Bordeaux, only 150 are dealing with Grand-Cru-Classé; the 250 others are taking care of the “petit chateau”. Negociants endorse the role of representing the estate owners in promoting and distributing the wines all over the world. Bordeaux is the only wine region in the world to work through this model.

The Futures/En-Primeurs Week

Each spring, thousands of wine professionals visit Bordeaux for the opening of the Futures campaign. Over 150 of the top estates welcome journalists, buyers, importers, retailers and other wine professionals from all over the world to taste barrel samples of their latest vintage. Estates use the feedback they receive about the quality of the wine and vintage to estimate demand and set initial prices. In May, the estates release their prices and allow wine merchants to buy their Futures. That is when the Futures campaign starts. Generally, a Futures campaign starts around mid-April and can finish around mid-July, according to the vintage. The campaign is then over when the prices of each estate has been released.

Wine Futures for a Special Occasion

Futures are usually bought for their prices. The price of a Futures wine is almost always lower than the release price on the market. The prices are generally lower since negociants and retailers are taking thinner margins because they do not have to carry stock and promote the wines. Everyone always wants to make sure to get the better price either to build their collection, invest in wine or simply to buy wines for a special occasion. Indeed, it is quite common to buy Futures in order to get some wine for your anniversary year, your child’s birth year, or even for a special occasion such as retirement, graduations, etc.

Risks of Purchasing Wine Futures

If you are considering buying wine Futures, it is important to choose a reputable wine merchant. Indeed, you may have heard stories of merchants who have filed for bankruptcy, stored wine in poor conditions, sell wine they do not actually own or engage in wine fraud. To dramatically lower this risk, look for an established wine merchant who has been in the wine trade for years, is financially solvent, and will store your wine properly.

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Michael Peltier, Senior Fine Wine Specialist at Millesima USA LLC to be added to the Bordeaux Insider list