After the Bordeaux harvest, the wines are fermented and the best ones will be transfered to oak barrels for maturation. These barrels will be stored away for a period between 14 to 20 months.
Before they have completed maturation, around six months from harvest in late spring, the new wine is tasted for the first time by wine critics and connoisseurs. They will get barrel samples of the approximate blend the winemaker is expecting to make. Through this, they form initial opinions about the quality of the harvest and the owner will peg a price per bottle. From the time the wine futures are offered, all orders must be paid in full, in 30 days or at least 18 months before the wine is released depending on the wine. Then you wait.
The benefits of buying en primeur
Buying the wine before release guarantees a delivery of the wine at opening price, which is normally an advantageous purchase for collectors of the top classified growths which may become too hard to find or too expensive in the future. For some, this can be a double form of investment - collecting their favourite wines at opening prices with the option to sell some of them at a later stage with a profit. The price increase from primeur to release used to be a given but in the recent years, with all the hype around bordeaux wines, the en primeur pricing has been greatly increased, lowering the investment potential of some top bottles.
The price of the wine futures on release will depend on the quality of the product and reputation of the grower.
Who buys en primeur?
Not just anyone can knock on the château doors and request to buy a few wine futures. Traditionally, each château has a few exclusive brokers who allocate the wine to people called négociants. From the négociants, the bottles go to importers and wholesalers, then finally to the consumers through retail stores and restaurants.
People in the wine business (brokers, négociants, merchants, wholesalers, retailers) are the main buyers of en primeur. However, many established wine enthusiasts also partake in this yearly ritual, for the same reasons of supply and price advantages as well as the fun of participating in the marketing frenzy. Priority allocations are often assured for those who follow the en primeur campaigns faithfully every year.
How does one buy en primeur?
Because of centuries-old tradition and the need for financial balance for wine producers, only the merchants, brokers and négociants, who have very long and good relationships with the châteaux are given allocations for the most sought after wines of the real "first release" prices against payments up front. These merchants, brokers and négociants may turn around and sell some of their allocation for the same reason. Establishing a good relationship to a broker or merchant that participates in the en primeur process is a good first step. Less sought after houses may not allocate their wines and an order can be placed directly with a participating merchant, as long as you are based in a country/state that allows it. You pay for your order immediately, though taxes, duties and the merchant’s fees may be charged when you receive your shipment.