Benjamin Jones, who runs the Grand Cru selection and European sales at the Negociant MT Vins gave Bordeaux Insider a bit of insight on the British Market, the 2011 En Primeur campaign, and what the Bordelais may be missing out on in UK pubs.
How is it working as a foreigner in France, is it easier or harder being British in your job?
Working as a foreigner in France is fine, many of our clients are from the UK and Hong Kong. There are different attitudes between the countries. Some people find that the French are aggressive or bit arrogant. I don’t think the French are arrogant, but for people that don’t know them it can come off that way sometimes. It really is cultural misunderstanding; however sometime in French business I’m a bit taken aback by their frankness.
What changes have you seen in the UK market for wine in general and for Bordeaux wine specifically?
I think the biggest change that I have seen in the last five years would be exchange rates to be honest. It was 1.5 euros to the pound when I started and the market at one point was as low as one euro to the pound. Times like that the British have virtually no purchasing power.
Many British consumers are out for bargains. Generally the wines I sell come in at ten pounds so they are not the ‘bargain wines’ however there does seem to be a bit more interest in Crus Bourgeois. As prices have gone up with Grand cru in the last few years they are becoming too expensive to drink. What Bordeaux can’t do so well is entry-level market wines just because of pricing. We can’t compete with Chilean wines, but there is always interest for Bordeaux. If you look at Decanter they are absolutely Bordeaux obsessed. I’ve heard they do that because that’s what their readers want.
Historically there is an important link between Bordeaux and the United Kingdom; do you think that relationship is still strong in the wine market?
In the sense that there are still allot of historical allocations with British merchants, but in the psyche of the average British person the historical links are not there. However in the psyche of the educated British wine drinker yes. If you’re working with Bordeaux that’s who you’ve got to aim for, you’re aiming at someone who is a bit of wine geek.
Is there a place for Bordeaux wines in pubs?
It depends on your clients; my clients are selling to gastro pubs. I speak with my mum and she says they ask for Pinot Grigio in pubs. I think that Bordeaux has missed something with Sauvignon Blanc a bit. Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc is very interesting and many people don’t realize that Sauvignon Blancs are being produced in Bordeaux, you return to the labeling issue.
What are your thoughts on this year’s futures campaign?
Catastrophe really. We don’t do much on en primeur, but speaking to my British counterparts they did about 25% compared to 2010.
My clients said if 2011 is going to work you need to come out at 2008 prices, but the producers didn’t. A lot of 2009 hasn’t been sold outside of Bordeaux and there is still allot of 2010 in stock in Bordeaux. The fact that they haven’t sold allot this year will make it hard for next year.
one of our HK clients who took 23 cases of Pontet Canet 2010 took none of the 2011
What is important is the absence of the Chinese in this campaign. We have seen that with our clients. One of our Hong Kong clients who took 23 cases of Pontet Canet 2010 off us last year didn’t buy any of their 2011 vintage, and that is a wine that worked this year. He said “We are not happy because we did not taste the honey with the 2010 campaign,” meaning they thought they would make money and didn’t. When Hong Kong dropped their excise a few years back people were making money just clicking their fingers. Now it has flattened out and people have been burnt.
Who is the British Bordeaux drinker today, who do you think it will be in five years from now?
The Bordeaux wine drinker is someone quite educated who is interested in wine and perhaps has gone on holiday in France. In the future I wonder if people will want Bordeaux the way they want sparking wines, for special occasions and to celebrate. The problem is that Champagne is easy to find and easy to understand, with Bordeaux you have 50 appellations – its so complicated, but again that’s what makes in interesting.
Another Brit’s perspective on French Wine……