Top Tips for Buying En Primeur

The current 2020 vintage from Bordeaux is a safe recommendation for an en primeur purchase.

© Shutterstock

Buying En Primeur: The Best Tips

The current 2020 vintage from Bordeaux is a safe recommendation for an en primeur purchase.

© Shutterstock

The en primeur campaign refers to a principle devised by the wine trade in Bordeaux, which on the one hand means wine producers receive money for wine that is still in the barrel and on the other, gives customers the opportunity to buy the most sought-after wines from Bordeaux before they have been bottled and put on the market. So you buy and pay for the young wine while it is still maturing in barrel and get the finished wine delivered about a year and a half later. The advantage for the consumer is a significantly better price than the one charged by specialist retailers later. 

This form of commodity futures trading originated more than 200 years ago, but in earlier times it was only open to wine merchants. In the old days, the wine was sold in barrel and the wine was only bottled later by the merchant, far away from Bordeaux, for example in England, Holland or Belgium. This is also the reason why most châteaux only have storage halls for the barriques of the first and second year, wine cellars are rarely found in the Gironde.

La Place de Bordeaux

It was only in 1972 that mis en bouteille au château, or bottling directly at the winery, became mandatory, and since the 1980s the en primeur system has also been accessible to private customers. This happened not least because during the oil crisis of the early 1970s a number of merchants in Bordeaux went bankrupt and selling wines before they were bottled represented a way of getting cashflow – from consumers directly in this multi-stage business.

In practice, it works like this: the well-known châteaux sell the majority of their production through so-called courtiers – experienced intermediaries who also advise the winery owners on pricing, for example – in several tranches to the traders or négociants who are registered on La Place de Bordeaux. Of these approximately 400 registered companies, only about 150 deal in the Grands Crus Classés. These in turn serve specialist wine merchants all over the world, who then offer the quotas of wines they receive as an allocation from the négoce in Bordeaux to the consumer or collector in subscription with a small surcharge.

As a rule, this takes place between May 15 and June 15. In vintages considered to be of poor quality or overpriced, it may well take longer.

Why buy before the wine is bottled?

But why should a consumers buy a wine they cannot taste and that will not be delivered until much later? The most salient reason is price. Well-received and well-reviewed wines with high scores are certain to change hands for more money on the secondary market, and they are also sold at a premium by wine merchants. So locking in a good price is a real possibility when buying on subscription. It is also a way of getting hold of much sought-after wines. Another advantage is traceability: buying en primeur from a reputable merchant ensures authenticity. The outstanding 2019 vintage, for example, was offered at comparatively low prices, and despite the difficult economic environment, the en primeur campaign ran swiftly and successfully.