The campaign has come to a shuddering close, a couple of emails still slither their way into my inbox offering suspicious first tranche prices on certain allocations that are hanging around like bad smells, from negociants desperately trying to recoup some of the capital they are forced to part with in order to secure their allocations for the next year.
How long will this go on? The negociants are held to ransom - made to buy wines they know they will struggle to sell in order to also get the creme of first growths and other strong market performers, and in turn hold merchants around the world to ransom. They in turn then dump certain properties onto the market at crazily low prices completely devaluing them as happened in particular this year with poor old (fantastic) Rieussec which was bundled together with Lafite - coming from the same stable.
In the past the negociants were prepared to swallow this for the lucrative benefits of supporting the chateaux during the long months of elevage the wines went through when there was no cash flow. Which is to say the massive resale value the wines held once they were physically released (at least 2 years later).
As an acknowledgement of the act of trust the negociants placed in the chateaux by buying wines so embryonic that only a hazardous guess could be made as to its eventual quality, the wines were released at bargain prices. Everyone was happy; the chateaux got some cash into their coffers and the negociants consolidated their position of power as gatekeepers to the worlds most precious wines.
It has all started to unravel recently. Last year saw a successful campaign mainly on the basis that the previous 3 vintages were pretty ordinary and there was nothing to get excited about. So the 'vintage of the decade' was a welcome relief and provided a much needed injection of adrenaline into the system.
But with 2010 proving to be another 'vintage of the decade' some fatigue was already setting in. Added to that was the curious drip feeding on to the market of the releases in April and May before the floodgates opened in June by which time a lot of people were over it. Some notable losers included Cos d'Estournel who very sensibly lowered their price from last year but had their thunder stolen by Ducru Beaucaillou who released later in the day with an even bigger drop in price. Guess which one sold?
We have also seen calls from senior members of the wine press calling for the en primeur tastings to be held much later when the wines have at least finished their malo-lactic fermentations or even a year later - given that the release prices now don't allow for any real investment benefits in the first year. And despite a campaign by Jancis Robinson to delay the release of scores until after the prices were released, there was not enough support paricularly among American writers to carry the motion.
Added to that was the Far Eastern thirst for fine wine, which has developed at an amazing rate and which has everyone around the wine transaction world presenting their business cards with both hands and a small bow, as I first noticed at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in June.
But the Chinese are switched on despite being widely mocked when they first joined the wine buying world for their reputation of mixing Lafite with coke. And traditional palates shuddered at the thought of their beloved first growths being sold to markets which clearly didn't deserve them. It was a triumph of new money over taste.
Their preference for physical stock to the en primeur system must also surely have chateaux owners thinking they're missing a real trick here by releasing wines now and missing out on that market completely.
But now, first it has been reported in Decanter that a major retailer in China has turned its back on the left bank in order to concentrate on the right where prices are generally less stratospheric (let's not bring up Cheval Blanc for now) and on own labels - how sensible. They might not have a historical trade relationship with Bordeaux but they know when they're being patronised, perhaps?
And secondly there are increasing demands for wines with a far greater perceived value in terms of being able to drink. The top 35 wines no longer have the same monopoly on the imagination, and an understanding of appellations as well as requests for wines outside the 'box' are significantly higher from year to year.
As with any new market, knowledge develops quickly. We must appreciate that new markets will take less time to develop into mature ones than our market in the UK has taken - which is centuries in fact. And perhaps some resent this but it is a fact. And rather than paying lip service respect we need to appreciate the level of sophistication that other markets have despite the fact that as a commercial proposition they may still be very young. And for the sake of everyone trading there it is important not to underestimate the unknown. Value for money is something every market can relate to.
But in all this I feel the chateaux have come to the conclusion that as they are now cash rich, they no longer need the services of the negociants to assist them through the cold months of famine until the finished wine reaches the market and cannot fathom why they should release the wines at one price only to have them double or triple or quadruple in a matter of days.
It is no different to Olympic tickets being released on allocation or Glastonbury tickets being issued through official websites and then appearing on ebay in a matter of minutes at vastly inflated prices, which everyone agrees is an outrageous affront to the artist whose work is being exploited. Except of course Olympic and Glastonbury fans are at least given the opportunity to fight it out in cyber space to get a ticket at source, which wine lovers are not. And the negociants are merely playing their part in what has long been the dance of Bordeaux en primeur.
It just doesn't seem that relevant anymore. And I can't see why the chateaux - not the middlemen - shouldn't be the beneficiaries of the final perceived value of the wine at release - they just need to employ a sales/admin team to deal with having several hundreds of clients as opposed to a handful and away they go. At the moment they are playing two games simultaneously but it seems to me to be just a matter of time before the rules change significantly.
What happens next...? Is en primeur a juggernaut that can't be stopped or a dinosaur at the monster's ball?