Latour Uncorks 'Non-Wine Connoisseurs'
The world-famous French winegrower Chateau Latour has stunned buyers by saying it will stop selling wines before they are at their best and ready to drink - in response to increasing numbers of customers opening bottles too early.
The leading Bordeaux estate has announced it is to pull out of the 'futures market', meaning its prestigious wines will no longer be sold in the barrel and only when bottled and aged.
Chateau Latour, which is owned by billionaire Francois Pinault, said the move had been driven by increasing numbers of consumers drinking the wine while it was too young, particularly a new generation of millionaires from Asia and eastern Europe.
These 'new market' customers, attracted by the brand rather than the product, are then unable to appreciate its complexities, the Chateau claims.
It is the first time that a grower in the five members of the wine super league - also known as 'first growth chateaux' - has broken out of the lucrative futures market, or 'en primeur' system of wine distribution.
This allows wine merchants across the world to get their hands on exclusive wines within a couple of hours of it being barrelled and lovers of fine wine to spend thousands of pounds while the wine matures in in the hope that it will turn into a classic.
There are fears that Latour's defection could trigger a wider exodus from the futures market as well as dampen enthusiasm at the annual 'en primeur' sales campaign, which is poised to begin and is likened to a major sporting event or Oscars film ceremony.
Max Lalondrelle, Bordeaux buyer for fine wine merchants Berry Bros and Rudd, told Sky News that Chateau Latour would no longer be part of "the buzz" surrounding the tasting season, making customers "less likely to be attracted by the brand".
But he added that, as one of the richest men in the world, Mr Pinault "can afford to hold on to the stock and distribute the wines as he wishes".
Mr Pinault also owns Christie's auction house, Gucci, Samsonite luggage and the Vail ski resort in America.
The move is not good news for the many merchants, brokers, retailers and chateaux for whom paying for wine while it is still ageing in the barrel is a vital source of financing.
Wholesalers in France's wine capital stand to lose up to three million euros of annual turnover, at 15% profit.
But Mr Lalondrelle added that it would be easy for Chateau Latour to "backtrack in a second" and go back into the market.
"There would be queues of buyers," he said.
The move by Chateau Latour came as its rival fine wine grower, Chateau Lafite, announced it was slashing prices.
Chateau Lafite signalled strong support for the primeur system, steeply cutting prices for the 2011 vintage, which is still in barrels, in order to boost sales in a market that some see as overpriced.
Lafite released its wine en primeur for 350 euros (£280) per bottle ex-cellar, a 50% drop from the average price of the 2010 vintage, brokers confirmed.
The price for consumers will be between 420 to 450 euros (£346-£371) per bottle.
Traders had called for lower prices this year to woo back American and European customers who had fled after prices skyrocketed and to reassure Chinese investors that money can be made on Bordeaux.
Last year, a six litre bottle of Chateau Latour sold for £135,000 in an auction in Hong Kong.
The 2012 vintage, the first not to be distributed for sale immediately, will be bottled next year and released for sale in ten to 15 years' time.