There have been numerous articles, most recently in the Financial Times, about the possible bubble in classified growth Bordeaux prices caused by China’s emergence as a major buyer. In 2009 en primeur prices (of the classified growths) rose 50 percent, followed by another 20 percent increase for those 2010 Bordeaux that have already announced en primeur prices.The price increase appears to be driven by the excellence of these two vintages combined with the surge in Asian, mainly Chinese, demand.
It remains to be seen if these prices can be sustained.The Financial Times reports that en primeur sales of the 2010 vintage are half the volume of last year’s, despite the fact the buzz on 2010 is at least as big as that on 2009. Of course, the continued slow economic growth in Europe and the US and the depreciating dollar also have something to do with the reduced demand, as does the hangover from a surge in spending on the spectacular and much-hyped 2009 vintage.
The impact of rising prices of Bordeaux appears to be having its largest impact on US sales. Mark Wessels of MacArthur Beverages in Washington, DC, says the volume of 2009 en primeur sales was only half that of the 2005 vintage.Numerous other US wine merchants that traditionally sold large amounts of Bordeaux report the same trend. While the economy and dollar depreciation are part of the explanation, US consumers also appear to be less wedded to Bordeaux in comparison to the British and EU countries. Well-heeled US consumers have their choice of high end Argentine, Chilean, Australian, Italian and boutique California wines, in addition to Bordeaux.What should be most worrisome to Bordeaux producers is that young shoppers rarely ask about Bordeaux anymore.
China in the Ascendance. In 2009 China replaced the US as the principal non-EU export market with a 97 percent increase by volume over 2008, while the US suffered a 27 percent decline.In 2010 exports to China grew a further 67 percent, while exports to the US grew only 6 percent. While these figures reflect all types of Bordeaux wines, not just classified growths, the trend is obvious. All the major Bordeaux importing countries except China experienced decreases in volume in 2009:Germany (-14%), Belgium (-14%), the UK (-25%), Japan (-18%), and the US (-27%).In 2010, exports to these same countries increased modestly (excepting Belgium, where they continued to decline), but the writing is on the wall.
In 2011 China should become Bordeaux’s most important export market in terms of volume.While Hong Kong and the UK still lead China in terms of export value, no one doubts that China will soon lead in this category, too.According to the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), Bordeaux exports by volume increased in the first quarter of 2011, with the largest gains again in China and Hong Kong.