Ronan Laborde is the President of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB), the promotional body for the region’s high-end wines, and the co-owner and manager of Château Clinet. In light of this year’s Bordeaux 2019 En Primeur campaign, Laborde kindly set aside some of his time to talk to us about the new releases and buying appetite, the characteristics of the vintage and the work of the UGCB behind the scenes.
What have been the greatest challenges so far to this year’s En Primeur campaign? Specifically, what are the planned timings of the UGCB campaign, and how will international merchants get a chance to taste the wines with the trade tastings postponed?
Because of the pandemic, we had to postpone the “En Primeurs Week”, which should have taken place in Bordeaux in early April. The Bordeaux Grands Crus were quick to support the doctors and patients, and also to adapt their organization to these challenges.
As there is a gradual return to activities, after weeks of lockdown, the UGCB (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux) decided to reorganise the way to introduce the 2019 vintage to the customers and media.
This will consist in organising adapted tasting sessions in Bordeaux and other cities around the world (Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Zurich, Shanghai, Hong-Kong, Tokyo, Singapore…), where small groups of retail professionals, wine critics and journalists are welcomed in several successive private sessions, during the month of June.
This will be very intimate, the producers will not attend but their presentations are available on the digital platform of the UGCB, and through a Flash code in the tasting room.
In the US, and in the UK, a selection of wine merchants will receive a tasting set of wines, directly delivered to them. This year, Primeurs come next to our customers door!
Thanks to this process, we believe that 75% of the wine merchants dealing with En Primeurs will get the opportunity to taste this outstanding vintage.
Will all of the usual participants in En Primeur take part this year?
I believe that a lot of the usual customers will take part, and some new ones should join, too.
There is a serious global economic slowdown, some of the Grands Crus customers are affected and have told us they would reduce their selection of wines, such as airlines, duty free, or the companies specialized on on-trade sales.
Some of the clients support the launch of these wines because they have a strong or an increasing link to Bordeaux Grands Crus, and their business continues as normal.
Lastly, some opportunistic customers will be interested as the price to quality ratio could be very attractive this year.
As a Chateau owner yourself, how do think prices should be set in order to attract buyers this year?
I am also a wine lover, and during these hard times, drinking great wines has brought pleasure and joy to my wife and I. So as consumers, our link to great wines has been strengthened.
The prices are first set in accordance to the quality and ageing potential perception of a vintage. So, the wines need to be tasted by our clients and rated by the wine critics, as this will have a large influence on the attraction of the 2019 vintage.
The price then comes out from discussions between the producers and their customers, and is influenced by the macro-economic situation.
Have you seen much enthusiasm from merchants to sell the vintage? What will make private clients buy the wines?
Yes, there is a strong interest from the wine merchants to taste the wines, as they have read about or experienced the very favorable weather conditions of the 2019 vintage. So, if they are seduced by the quality, and convinced by the price, they will support the sales to their customers.
What do you say to criticism that this year’s virtual/distant campaign is a mistake due to lack of tastings and a weak market?
Despite the restrictions to travel and gather people, the Grands Crus producers have done their best to support their customers, the medias and to preserve the magic of “En Primeurs”.
There are many innovations, which are implemented to keep our customers fairly informed. These great wines are real, not virtual, and are ageing in oak barrels currently!
They have been or will be tasted by the clients and the press, who could advise their customers with confidence.
What is the appeal to the collector of En Primeur in your opinion? There is also debate whether the system is sustainable given the shrinking margins available to the supply chain and the returns to the collector – could 2019 be the vintage to change perceptions, and if yes, in what ways?
I have been participating in many events, gathering wine professionals and private clients, all around the world, for years now.
They all have a common point: they love great wines. Very few talk prices, returns or margins because their first motivation is to get a great and rare product. They understand the hard work and the experience you need to reach that level of quality, and that the quantity is limited.
As most of the Grands Crus are on the “open-market”, the prices are compared and could be indexed to the merchant which offers the smallest margin, after the release. However, the Bordeaux Grands Crus age exceptionally and as they are getting older and harder to find, their prices increase regularly.
What are your highlights of the 2019 vintage?
It is a vintage that combines a great balance between the maturity and the freshness, and that reaches a tremendous level of precision and pleasure in the aromas.
What are the defining characteristics of the vintage? How does it compare to previous years?
For our estate, Château Clinet, it will be considered among the vintages offering lots of complexity, structure and very long ageing potential, so 2018, 2016, 2010, 2005.
What are your favourite Bordeaux vintages, and how would you rank them?
I think 2010 is the “must”, and I have enjoyed a few bottles recently, which confirmed my expectations.
Then, for my personal taste, I would say 1990, 1989, 2005, 2016, 2018… and 2019 should take a seat in this “First Class” selection.
In your opinion, which are the most important Bordeaux wine critics?
There are a lot of important Bordeaux wine critics! They are based worldwide, in the UK, in the US, in Hong-Kong, in France etc… Some of these wine professionals have an international audience, some a local/regional but strong influence there.
What are your plans for the future of the UGCB?
The guideline is to improve the knowledge on the Grands Crus de Bordeaux. Within the last year, we have set up, in association with the ISVV (Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin) a training program, called “Parcours Grands Crus”, to improve the skills on the Grands Crus de Bordeaux.
Also, we have launched a media called www.vintagebyugcb.com that talks about the news of our members. The video presentations of every 2019 wine is now online, on the UGCB “Youtube” channel!
Finally, our events have innovated to offer extra experiences to our visitors. In this way, we have done masterclasses, conferences, seated tastings to the journalists.
How do you see the wine industry as a whole changing in the next 20 years?
There will be technological improvements that will support the quality of the wines, that’s for sure.
Then, there are governmental decisions that could modify the current way of production and sales, such as banning water-spraying on the vines, in countries outside Europe, to preserve this precious natural resource, or the implementation/removal of tariffs.
There are probably many things we cannot imagine that could happen, so the best is to remain ready for changes!
What is your view on the role of Liv-ex with respect to the wine market?
For the wine merchants, Liv-ex is a reference of information, analysing the Grands Crus trade, and also a way to buy and sell wines.
Liv-ex’s success lies in the market demand for these services.
Looking for more?
Our Bordeaux 2019 pages contain everything you need to know about this year’s En Primeur campaign; analysis tools, critics scores, reports and more.
For Liv-ex’s view on how the wine trade will change in the next 20 years, see our special report ‘The Future of Wine Trading’.