DEFLATING A MARKET FULL OF HOT AIR

MD & FOUNDER OF FINE WINE MERCHANT BORDEAUX INDEX

TUCKED away for half term with the family, I was tenderly unprepared for the storm in a teacup that clattered over the internet yesterday. In shock news, it seems that Chateau Lafite-Rothschild has decided to release the nascent 2008 vintage with a very small Chinese symbol on the bottle.

The symbol, which apparently is considered lucky, shall feature on every (as yet) unbottled bottle and magnum of the vintage.

While this is hardly an unprecedented move – Mouton-Rothschild 1996 has a label designed by Chinese artist Gu Gan and the chateau is intending a repeat for 2008 – it has nonetheless generated considerable media interest.

While a spokeswoman for the chateau suggested she did not know what impact the move would have on the value of Lafite 2008 in China, it seems that the usual suspects in the UK trade have charged the hype cannon and they are busy delivering a full barrage of twittery.

COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL

This would almost be exciting if it wasn’t so familiar. Ever since the en-primeur release 18 months ago, the UK trade has been locked in an endless trawl of Wikipedia, hoping to ascribe commercial potential to the 2008 vintage based on the number eight’s significance in Chinese culture. (Hint: it can represent wealth, prosperity and fortune.)

Indeed, throughout this period, the only market that has not consistently bought, hoarded and generally engaged in the dialectic is Hong Kong/China itself. Still, not to let the empirical get in the way of the ephemeral, the release of this vignette has resulted in every significant offer being pulled, only to re-appear hours later and 15 per cent the richer.

In any other market, the wholesale swallowing of such pervasive groupthink should represent an opportunity for the enlightened to take a contrary position. Such are the constraints of wine, however, that this is far trickier.

Not only are we unable to open short positions, but the lack of centralised settlement makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for private individuals to realise profits on wines that are not yet physical.

MARKETING GAMBIT

This leaves us in the unenviable position of having to swallow a dragon’s belly of hot air without the means to capitalise on it. What’s worse, the apparent success of this particular marketing gambit seems sure to extend to the other chateaux as they look to cement their foothold in the Chinese market.

Look out for a fruit machine’s worth of goldfish, dragon boats, laughing Buddhas and gold coins to augment the labels of your favourite 2008 wines. After all, it’s not about what’s in the bottle, is it?

While I await a much hoped-for return to the rational, I’m off to pack my remaining cases of double fortune Lafite 88 to take to Hong Kong for auction and to finish my holiday, hopefully in peace…