Bibendum is launching a new service that could see UK restaurants working far more closely with top Bordeaux châteaux than they ever have before.
Under its plan, announced today, the wine merchant is teaming up with a number of Bordeaux estates, from Cru Bourgeois to First Growths, to provide a range of older vintages directly from the cellars of the châteaux to the restaurant.
The first participating châteaux have already signed up (see below right) and Bibendum’s CEO Michael Saunders told Imbibe that many more are already lined up, and will be announced over the next month. Specific wines to be available from this first ‘tranche’ of châteaux, include Mouton Rothschild 2004, d’Armailhac 2006 and 2010 and Cos 2008
Baron Philippe de Rothschild
- Château d'Armailhac
- Château Clerc Milon
- Pagodes de Cos
- Château Cos d’Estournel
- Château Pedesclaux
- Château d’Issan
Typically, such older wines released directly from the château would be sold above the existing market rate, with buyers expected to pay a premium for the guaranteed provenance and storage conditions. But according to Saunders, in this instance the châteaux are happy to sell at a more competitive price in the interests of increasing their presence in the UK on-trade.
‘I've gone in and said “give us an allocation of 2008, 2014, whatever, and we'll place that in the restaurants you want the wines to be drunk in”,’ Saunders told Imbibe. ‘That is a good thing. I think I’m offering a great service for Bordeaux.’
Saunders believes that this model could revolutionise Bordeaux in the on-trade.
‘By creating a focused range of top wines, we will be able to put forward an offer that has not been seen before by the UK on-trade,’ he said. ‘We really wanted to facilitate better working relationships between the château and the restaurants their wines are sold in.’
For restaurants, there are several attractions. Firstly, the châteaux are selecting wines which they think are perfectly ready to drink. Secondly, having come from their own cellars there are no question marks about storage conditions or authenticity.
The key point for me is getting pristine wines to the on-trade at the right price with all the conventional support that everywhere else in the world does.
Thirdly – and perhaps most attractive of all - châteaux will also be offering in-market support, such as tastings, dinners and trips to the property for key accounts.
While such relationship-building activity might be commonplace across the rest of the wine world, it is absent in Bordeaux, due to way in which the wine is traditionally sold via the ‘place’.
Typically, top châteaux sell their wine to a network of negotiants, who then sell it round the world. Châteaux have no control over where their wines end up, and there is no communication between the wine estates and their customers.
When sales are booming – as they have been for most of the last 20 years – this lack of direct contact is not a problem. But when markets start to slow down it leaves the Bordelais vulnerable. And with the heat seeping away from key markets such as China and the US, it’s perhaps no surprise that Bibendum’s game-changing move should have been warmly received in the Médoc.
‘The key point for me is getting pristine wines to the on-trade at the right price with all the conventional support that everywhere else in the world does,’ says Saunders. ‘Getting that reconnection with customers and their clients – I think that's shit hot.’
And while there are clear advantages to the Bordelais and to restaurants, the new strategy – devised by Saunders and negotiant Compagnie Médocaine – isn’t bad for the UK merchant either.
'We probably sell more fine wine into the on trade than anybody else anyway,’ Saunders told Imbibe. ‘But this is going to take us to the next level.'
Interested sommeliers should email FineWineTrading@bibendum-wine.co.uk.