Saturday, June 10, 2006

En Primeurs and our buying strategy

At the moment the 2005 Bordeaux en primeur campaign is building towards it climactic moment when the top 10-15 chateaux release their grands vins at ever more grand prices. This year we have taken a back seat to all this and decided not to purchase anything en primeur. Nothing at all, not even the DRC. All of which means we will surrender our allocations for this year and in all likelyhood if we decide to purchase next year we will have to start right at the bottom of the queue again. Its a decision that I may well come to regret several years down the line, when the cost of 2005 bordeaux may well be astronomical, and we try to purchase some stock to add to the wine-list. But its a decision that I took for a number of reasons. Our market is changing and evolving, our client base is getting younger, and that means that the sales are shifting more towards the new world. So does it make sense to continue purchasing stock that in all likelyhood you wont have a demand for in five or more years when it is ready to drink? I dont think so, and so did Ross, as he supported that decision not to purchase.

So this has forced me to look at the way we stock our cellar. Currently we have 70+ beverage suppliers on the books, of which only about 40 odd are actually active. Out of that forty, about 25 to 30 recieve regular orders, with the core of the volume being split between three suppliers. These three suppliers provide all of the banqueting wine-list, two thirds of the brasserie wine-list and close to a quarter of the Arkle list. (Although if you count previous purchases that we are holding in the cellar while it mature, then Gerrard Seel accounts for nearly 40% of the Arkle list.). Now most of the volume on the hotels stock is across the bottom end of the wine-lists. Almost all of it is sub £30, and that is made up of Banqueting and Brasserie stock. Now for the Arkle wine-list, my aim is to move towards buying a lot more of the stock through brokers. We will have a core section of the list, which will rarely change - all your "comfort" wines like Sancerre, Chablis, Pouilly Fume, Fleurie etc etc. Then with the rest of the list, I will have the freedom to manipulate the list according to the seasons, menu, my current tastes, and of course to respond to the market demands a lot more.

By buying from brokers we can purchase smaller parcels of stock that are ready to drink. Instead of being bound to purchasing several cases of wine, we will be able to buy half a dozen or so bottles, and when the wine is gone we can either replenish it, or replace it. This means that the wine-list can be a lot more pro-active to the needs of the customers. It also means I can match the list more accurately to the menu, and so change it seasonally when Simon Radley changes the menu. Which will help me to sell the wines as they can be more specifically matched to dishes.

As the prices for the top bordeaux are released soon, Im hoping that Ive made the right decision, but ultimately Im sure that I have and that the business will prove that. The next five or more years will be very interesting to watch how the prices change.

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