This episode of “Wine 101” is sponsored by Louis M. Martini Winery. The term “en primeur” signifies a wine that hasn’t been released to the market yet, but reports show it’ll be an amazing vintage. If there were en primeur wines in the U.S., Louis M. Martini would definitely be high on the list. With a history so ingrained in Napa, you simply couldn’t do it without them.
En primeur, or “wine futures,” is the phenomenon of buying wine almost two years before it’s bottled. The practice is usually something that only industry people pay attention to, but it occasionally leaks into the consumer realm.
The concept of en primeur was first documented by writer Pliny the Younger in ancient Rome. With the invention of cylindrical wine bottles came an interest in collecting and storing wine. However, at the time, the only people who could afford to do so were members of the bourgeoisie, and there were only so many wine varietals that went to bottle — usually port and Madeira.
Fast-forward to 1848 and a French man named Hermann Cruz decided to buy up almost all of the previous year’s Medoc wine to sell on his own terms at a later date. By the 1860s, the import duties on French products had been significantly reduced and the passing of the Single Bottle Act helped bring retail sales to fruition. Then, phylloxera hit, and the practice of en primeur was dormant until the post-World War II era when the French franc was devalued and the U.S. dollar was going strong.
The combination of winery greed and America’s blooming thirst for French wine caused Bordeaux prices to shoot through the roof. So, to cut out any middlemen and keep costs low, American wine lovers started going directly to French proprietors to claim wine before it went to bottle — or in some cases, before the grapes had even been harvested. The whole concept is built on speculation and the promise of a good vintage. That said, judging a wine before it’s fully developed can be kind of a crap shoot. And while the early birds sometimes get the worm, the en primeur investment strategy is more like playing the stock market than a bonafide guarantee.
Today, Keith explores the ins and outs of the en primeur process and shares some insight on the highly speculative, yet lucrative, gambles of the wine world. Tune in for more.
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“Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big old shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darby Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.
E. & J. Gallo Winery is excited to sponsor this episode of VinePair’s “Wine 101.” Gallo always welcomes new friends to wine with an amazingly wide spectrum of favorites, ranging from everyday to luxury and sparkling wine. (Gallo also makes award-winning spirits, but this is a wine podcast.) Whether you are new to wine or an aficionado, Gallo welcomes you to wine. Visit TheBarrelRoom.com today to find your next favorite, where shipping is available.