Route to market
70% of Bordeaux wine is sold through the 300 négociants or wine merchants known as ‘La Place de Bordeaux’. It may seem complicated, but it works; 43% of Bordeaux wines, worth over 2 billion euros, are shipped to over 170 countries every year.
Winemakers have established close ties with négociants over the years, working and travelling together for trade and consumer tastings, dinners and events. The pandemic brought an end to most of these events, so properties have had to think again.
Has Covid turned the system on its head? Can it still work now consumers want to connect directly with producers? Many châteaux, even those working with négociants, already had some direct sales and e-commerce pages for clients, often inspired by wine tourism as they opened their doors to visitors.
Some Grand Crus Classés that traditionally only worked with négociants are now chatting directly to clients; Château Carbonnieux in Pessac Léognan delivers across France and offers ‘click and collect’, as does Château Fourcas Hostens in Listrac.
Château Beauregard and Château Petit Village in Pomerol started working with Winesitting in 2021, a project launched during Covid to make their wines more easily available to their customers and retailers. Clients in Paris can have their wine within 24 hours of ordering!
Buying directly from the property can mean a larger choice of both vintages and formats. Château de Ferrand offers direct clients magnums and the less easy to find second wine with the option of beautiful wooden cases, even for single bottles.
Small is beautiful
Not all vineyards sell to the négociants. The system works well for properties with a well-established market, but smaller producers with less volume to sell have to be more adventurous. They might not have big budgets but are often more innovative and flexible.
Sally Evans at George 7 in Fronsac released her first wine in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. She introduced online sales as soon as she had wine in bottle,
delivering across Europe (further afield upon request) and offering free delivery to Bordeaux city and the region. She also offers ‘click and collect’ at her tasting room at the property, which locals love.
She personalises every case with seasonal recipe cards and even included Fronsac wine-flavoured chocolates in Christmas deliveries.
This year she is launching a Club George card. Upon purchase, members qualify for a free annual private visit and tasting and 10% off retail sales at the winery. Thanks to a QR code, members can also access a special web page with exclusive offers and events, etc.
Château les Carmes Haut Brion also has a club, offering members VIP access to the château’s wines directly from the estate. Club members fulfil an annual minimum order of a six-bottle case per year to maintain membership.
At Château de Cérons, clients automatically become members of Le Club des Fous de Cérons by making a purchase of €300 or more, and then enjoying a 10% discount on all future orders
Bernard Magrez owns properties in Bordeaux and across the world. Membership in his ‘Le Club’ includes exclusive invites to events and tastings (IRL as well as virtual), regular updates from the properties, access to competitions and membership discounts on wine and wine tourism experiences. Interestingly, the e-commerce site covers everything from wine to beer and spirits and even on-line wine tourism.
As the stream of visitors dried to a trickle with thwarted travel plans, wine makers used their websites to keep in touch with their clients and partners. An online shop allows producers to talk in-depth about the wines and the vintages, covering production, drinking dates, food and wine matching suggestions – knowledge that clients might not get from a retailer. It’s a perfect opportunity for consumers to get behind the label.
Chateaux have embraced this desire to learn more, offering master classes, behind the scenes videos, Instagram lives or working with wine schools and consumer platforms to reach out to their clients via Zoom.
Château Climens in Barsac already had an e-commerce site, but the videos they created during lockdown drew more people in, always intrigued by the complexity and the mystery of noble rot.
More than wine
The Bonnie family, owners of Chateau Malartic Lagravière in Pessac Léognan went virtual, partnering with experts. They created a series of videos ‘Le Grand Voyage’ with Joe Fattorini, about the history of Bordeaux. With Wine Paths, they organised a virtual wine tour of the property.
As they could no longer invite guests to their table, they decided to take the table to the guests. With wine writer Robert Joseph, they published ‘The Four Seasons of Malartic’, a family recipe book that is also a family history and a look at the day-to-day life of a château.
An online tasting might not be the same as meeting a winemaker at a dinner or tasting in the cellar. Buying wine online might not be the same as entering a shop, but these new sales channels have opened Bordeaux to a broader audience and allowed estates to engage more intimately with consumers. Sales, either directly or through traditional channels, have only benefitted from these closer relationships.
Consumer knowledge has improved and I’m sure we’ll see better-informed visitors when travel starts up again. It’ll be like meeting old friends.
Cover picture : Château Pape Clément photo credits