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Bordeaux's future under attack

Bordeaux's upcoming wine futures campaign is ruffling more feathers than ever this year.

by: AFP | 18 Feb 2008

"Are they going to try and sell us bottles at 500 euros?" asked Alain-Dominique Perrin, former head of the world's second biggest luxury group, Richemont, in an interview this month with one of France's most popular wine magazines.

"If there is a moral in this wine world all the top ones must go back down to 100 euros," he said of the 2007 Bordeaux vintage, which will be tasted by critics in the first week of April and sold in the following months.

The Bordeaux primeur system, which offers wine for sale two years before it is bottled, is unique in the wine world and has always attracted much attention, both positive and negative.

In the last two years, prices paid for top wines have reached record wholesale prices of 400 to 500 euros per bottle, as demand exploded, with customers paying per bottle retail prices of up to 1 000 euros for a few of the most sought after wines like Petrus, Ausone and Cheval Blanc.

The president of the , which organises the annual primeur tastings, Patrick Maroteaux, described Perrin's comments as bitter. He said his take on the wines of 2007, which included calling them wet and mediocre, was wrong.

"He will be very surprised when he tastes them seriously," he said. Given that Perrin is from outside Bordeaux, and owns several wine estates in other parts of France, notably in Cahors where winemakers can only dream of matching top Bordeaux pricing, his comments could be dismissed as jealousy.

However another critic, this time from Bordeaux, the now retired winemaker at Chateau Petrus, one of the most famous Bordeaux wines, also weighed in against the primeurs this month.

Jean Claude Berrouet, who worked at Petrus from 1964 to 2007, told another magazine that wines had been hijacked by a system that encouraged speculative investors to buy now at relatively reduced prices and sell later at higher ones. "We have taken wine hostage and we need to set it free," he said.

Berrouet also said the primeurs tastings were too frenzied, and that wines needed to be judged over time, not in a great rush as currently happens. For his part, Perrin, now executive administrator for Richemont (owner of Cartier, Montblanc and Van Cleef and Arpels), also said top wines were over-priced in relation to production costs. "To make a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild or similar, all payments included, it comes to between 10 and 12 euros at most," he said.

Consumers were therefore paying about 80 times cost of production for the most sought-after wines, when the highest expected in the luxury industry is only 17 times cost of production, Perrin said.

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