Image: Château Gruaud Larose in St-Julien.
story and photos by Jennifer Curry
A RARECAT WINES PARTNER SERIES POST
“This is going to be a very special experience,” Marc Dubedout whispered to me as we approached the white mast sign welcoming merchants, trade professionals, and journalists to the Crus De Pessac-Léognan on our first day of Bordeaux’s “En Primeur.”
Dubedout is a wine courtier and longtime friend of RARECAT Wines. The entire experience was reminiscent of some secret wine society for those in the know.
Dressed in classic attire, the attendees moved efficiently and purposeful around the horseshoe-shaped room. Names like Domaine De Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, and Latour Martillac caught my attention, as I weaved my way through a multitude of Châteaus offering tastes of their 2015 vintages–and these are all Premier Cru Classé whites and reds from the finest vineyards; some of the best wines in France.
Deeply seeded in Bordeaux tradition, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, En Primeur (sales of wine futures) happens once a year in the Springtime. Attendees taste barrel samples of the previous year’s harvest, with the opportunity to purchase the wines before they are bottled and released. These initial samples are given a wine rating as a forecast of the quality and worth of the wine once bottled and placed in the market. Trade professionals have the option of purchasing the wine at a lower price than when it will be released.
The wines are then held in bond, tax-free, until available to those trade professionals, typically within two or three years. The end goal is to have purchased a wine in advance of it increasing in value.
Wine merchants and negociants have existed for centuries in Bordeaux. In the 17th century, Bordeaux was becoming a port and trading center and a very important trading route. The merchants and negociants were business owners that purchased and sold wine and other goods at the Place de Bordeaux, which exists as a marketplace for Bordeaux wines today. Bordeaux nobility and landowners shunned them because of their foreign roots, hence the arrival of courtiers–or wine brokers.
The courtiers traveled all over Bordeaux negotiating between the landowners and the foreign negociants. Courtiers knew all the producers and could successfully facilitate the supply for the demand while earning a broker’s fee to boot.
Courtiers were instrumental in the Bordeaux wine trade and creation of the 1855 Bordeaux Classification system. Their involvement in En Primeur heightened as negociants were negatively affected by the economic downfall of the early 1970s resulting in foreclosures and bankruptcy. However, by selling their château allocations to retailers at En Primeur, they would stabilize their financial position.
Today courtiers are the liaisons between Bordeaux wine producers and the negociants.
Working for RARECAT Wines and producing wines in Napa, Champagne, and Bordeaux led me to En Primeur with Sharon Kazan Harris, Owner and Director of Winemaking at RARECAT.
We embarked on a four-day event, which began in Pessac-Léognan, and took us North to South from the Medoc to Haut Médoc, visiting St- Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien, and Margaux. Then, to the Right Bank to trounce through St-Émilion and Pomerol on the last day.
It was exciting bouncing from chateau to château, tasting multiple wines at each, with fantastic lunches at every stop. Attendees were swirling, sniffing, and quaffing, meticulously writing tasting notes of their impressions with the intention of making a sound purchasing decision, hoping to reap financial reward.
One attendee was Aurelie Sublett from Château Tailhas in Pomerol. She is the niece of our consulting winemaker, Luc, who produces RARECAT’s single vineyard St-Émilion wine from fruit in Château Tailhas’s world-class vineyard in the “Villemaurine” section of St-Émilion, which is visible from RARECAT’s villa!
Through established long-standing friendships like this, RARECAT can produce this exquisite Grand Cru wine and bring it back to Napa Valley, cutting out all tiers of distribution, to sell it an affordable price.
Three different vintages: 2010, 2011, and 2012 are available here.
After a full and busy week at En Primeur, we reflected on our experiences from the connections we made to the wines we relished and savored. And we did it all over a bottle of RARECAT St-Emilion paying homage to a lineage of friendships and the historical changes in the Bordeaux wine trade that have provided us the opportunity to produce and drink this wine.