Diving into any investment market—art, cars, Air Jordans—can be intimidating to a newcomer. Such is the case with Bordeaux wine futures, where participants buy into a vintage from a specific winery while it’s still aging in barrels, years before they can drink it.
“There’s a perception that it’s only associated with four-digit wines and that you need to go big, investing a significant amount of money,” says Mary Gorman-McAdams, master of wine and North America market adviser for Bordeaux wines. “The reality is you can buy futures at all levels, particularly with vintages after 2014.”
Though the concept of “wine futures” (or en-primeurs) began in Bordeaux some 200 years ago, securing the best wines of the region for negotiants (middle-man merchants), the modern version only became available to private collectors in the 1980s as a means of securing up-front cash for the region’s growers and vintners. “It made economic sense,” says Gorman-McAdams, “before the top wines were priced like they are now. Today it’s kind of a speculation sport.” The reality is, just as with art, there are many reasons to buy into a barrel of wine. But it’s important to know what you’re doing and why. Here are a few hints and tips from the experts:
The reality is, just as with art, there are many reasons to buy into a barrel of wine. But it’s important to know what you’re doing and why.
FIND A REPUTABLE MERCHANT: “In the past,” says Hortense Bernard, general manager of Millesima, USA, a French-owned, NYC-based wine merchant and one of the five largest buyers of Bordeaux Futures, “disreputable companies would sell wine they didn’t actually have, then use that money to buy wines for other clients.” (Think Ponzi scheme.) She recom- mends seeking out a company that has been successfully working with futures for many years and can satisfactorily answer any questions.
DO YOUR RESEARCH: “Regardless of what price point you’re dabbling in,” says Gorman-McAdams, “read about the wines, get a feel for the vintage, find what’s written about the previous vintage and the producers.”
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT: Perhaps you seek a piece of the hard-to-get Château Margaux first growth at a bargain for investment (prices for futures are almost always less than once the wine is bottled), but perhaps you just really like French wine. “In Europe, especially, I see more and more everyday wine selling on the futures market,” says Bernard.
“I will have customers buy the same brand each year, just because they like it.” Gorman-McAdams agrees: “Looking back at inexpensive wines from 2010, I think, ‘Why didn’t I buy a case or two of that?’” Others buy into vintages that mark anniversaries or other celebrations.
LEARN THE CALENDAR: Part of what makes the Bordeaux futures game both fun and challenging is the time-sensitive nature of each release. Excitement builds in the fall, when that year’s harvest enters the barrels, but it’s spring when the fun begins, with En-Primeurs Week bringing thousands of wine professionals and journalists to Bordeaux to try the latest vintage and report their impressions. By mid-July, the prices have been set.
VINTAGE IS KEY: Each year’s sale reflects the previous year’s harvest, and Bordeaux is a region especially susceptible to weather extremes. But there’s another reason to know whether 2017 was a good year or bad: “I will tell some customers during a really good vintage to go with secondary labels, because the wines will be a really good investment,” says Bernard. “When it’s a smaller vintage, you’re better going with first growth wines.”
IT’S OKAY TO NERD OUT: “When people come to us, one thing that’s very important to them is provenance, that the wines are in their original cases,” says Bernard. It’s akin to collectors of action figures wanting their possessions “mint-in-box.”