French Wine Futures: Exploring St. Emilion

This Medieval Village Is Soaked In The Tradition Of French Wine

I spent the night in St. Emilion last week and was tempted to invest in 2014 primeurs of some of the better Bordeaux chateaux, as I’ve done in the past.

Chateaux big and small presell their wine from the previous year’s harvest. The grapes are picked in September, crushed into juice, and dumped into vats (OK, there’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist). Then, before the wine is moved from the vats to bottles, the majority of production is presold as primeurs, or wine futures.

Your preordered wine is delivered to you once it’s been bottled. Typically, Bordeaux wines spend two years in the vats, so you’d expect delivery of 2014 primeurs in 2016 or early 2017.

As I said, I was tempted to invest, but I didn’t have time to go into each wine shop in St. Emilion to see what they had available. The wine is sold through brokers authorized by each chateau. Not every broker has every label available, and they can sell out of the big-name chateaux quickly.

I last purchased primeurs in 2005 and 2006. At the time, 2005 was being touted as an exceptional year. I happened to be in St. Emilion, so I bought several cases as an investment. The girl in the shop where I bought was fantastic. I followed her recommendations, and every one of the primeurs and other wines I bought from her that year have appreciated well. They’ve all doubled or tripled in value.

I was so encouraged by the experience (the actual purchase experience, even before I knew how well my wine futures would eventually pay off) that I decided to invest again in 2006. However, in 2006, I wasn’t able to travel back to St. Emilion, so I went online and placed my order through a French wine website offering a wide variety of primeurs from the best Bordeaux chateaux.

This experience did not go as well as the first. The site was too big and too successful. They oversold. When it came time for delivery, they didn’t have enough allocation from many of the chateaux to cover what they’d committed to.

Long story short, I didn’t get all of my 2006 primeurs, and I recently learned that the website has gone into liquidation. I’m not likely to get any compensation for the missing bottles. The purchase price for the nondelivered wine wasn’t much; however, many of the wines I bought but didn’t receive have more than doubled in value… which was the point. I made the purchase as an investment.

In 2008, we moved from France to Panama, and I haven’t had time these past several years to think about investing in wine futures. Plus, after getting burned by the fancy French website, I wasn’t as interested in the idea… until Kathleen and I returned to St. Emilion last week.

You can’t walk around this medieval World Heritage Site village soaked in the history and culture of stomping and pressing grapes into wine without wanting to buy some of it. Down every cobblestoned street and around every white stone corner is another wine vintner or vendor. A handful of small chateaux are located right in or just outside the town. Travel any direction down any road leaving town, and you’ll discover more vines, more centuries-old chateaux, and more opportunities to sample, to purchase, and to invest.

With so many options the question is what to buy.

You don’t have to go far for help answering that question. Everyone you meet in St. Emilion knows wine and can make suggestions, depending on your tastes, your budget, and your objectives… as did the girl who helped me back in 2005.

Buying wine strictly as an investment is a crapshoot. The obvious variables are the vintage and how well it ages. In addition, you have locational pricing differences and transportation and storage costs (if you don’t have a cave in France).

However, as a hobby, buying primeurs and holding them until they are ready to drink is a great idea that comes with the possibility of upside. Of course, in many cases you end up drinking your profits…

In my case, many of my 2005 bottles will be served at my daughter’s wedding, taking place here in France in less than two weeks’ time. I’d say that’s the best investment of all.

If you’re interested in wine as a hobby-investment, here’s a good place to go to get started.

Lief Simon


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