The rumours about an early campaign this year have turned out to be true. OK, they weren’t really ‘mere’ rumours, as even the first growths themselves said during the primeurs tastings that they would be coming out early this year, with price cuts. Christophe Salin, commercial director at Lafite, was candid with his comments on pricing and his release strategy. Nevertheless, when all seemed to remain reticently silent last week (aside from a few minor châteaux there were no releases – I think the biggest name to come out was Angludet) I think we all began to doubt the words that we ourselves had heard.
But this morning’s news that Lafite is out, with a release price reported as €350 per bottle ex-château, €450 per bottle ex-négoce (it will be even more at retail), shows that Salin at least is true to his word. This is early. I must say I am greatly surprised, as I was still wondering whether they would hold on for Parker’s scores. My main reason for thinking this was how so many of the châteaux were burned with the 2008 releases – they came out early and low, and after Parker’s scores were released prices climbed. It was the same old story for the Bordelais – they watched while somebody else made money on their wine (all complicated by tranches and other facets of en primeur – it’s never simple, is it?). But there is one important (and obvious difference) here – the release price.
The 2008 was released by the négoce at €130 (as was Latour, by the way), and so we’re looking at a release price for the 2011 that is nearly three times that for the 2008 (to be precise €450 is a 246% increase on €130). I think many will be shocked at that, but when you look at the market prices for recent vintages of Lafite back to 2001, it is 2008 that was under-priced, rather than soley 2011 being over-priced. Looking at 2011 against 2010 (perhaps a more commonly made comparison) the reduction is only 25% (2010 was €600 ex-négoce), against pre-release calls for reductions of 40-50% to stimulate the market. Lafite might just sell at this price – stated with the caveat we have yet to see what effect the various margins will have on the price presented to the consumer, of course. It could be quite close to some prices for currently available older vintages. Update: this has translated through as an offer of £5,500 per case on Liv-Ex for the first release from the château. This – importantly – brings it in below the current prices for other comparable vintages, particularly 2008. But that’s still a lot of money – especially (with my UK hat on) once you add duty and tax.