Unlike the Bordeaux wine broker, the role of the Bordeaux wine merchant is much better known. The Bordeaux wine merchant is in charge of the distribution and sales of Bordeaux Grands Crus wines, also known as “Châteaux”.
The origins of the Bordeaux wine merchants
The Bordeaux wine merchants history goes as far back as the eleventh century. After the wedding of Eleaonor of Aquitaine, former queen of France, and king Henry II of England, Bordeaux became part of the Kingdom of England. Following this marriage, Bordeaux naturally developed important trading relations with England. From these new exchanges arose a new generation of merchants: the Bordeaux wine merchants.
These exchanges will intensify over the following centuries with the installation, in addition to the local wine merchants of Dutch, German and Irish traders. Settled along the banks of the river Garonne, these wine merchants will quickly obtain the nickname of “Chartrons”. Nowadays, the dock where they settled still bears that name. This nickname finds its origins in a former Carthusian monastery (Chartreux in French) that was located near the docks.
In the seventeenth century, the Bordeaux wine merchants became so strong that they started adding their names on the wines they bottled themselves. (This usage will last for a very long while until Baron Philippe de Rohtschild, owner of Château Mouton-Rohtschild started to bottle the wines on the property).
Finally, after the Second World War, “immigrants” from the Corrèze region (North-East of Bordeaux) settled in Libourne and around the Dordogne river and gradually developed a second geographical area for this trade. (Source: UMB)
The role of the Bordeaux wine merchant
In the early 1960’s it was current that the Bordeaux wine merchants would age the wines before bottling them. Nowadays, this activity has decreased as all the most important Châteaux now is still extremely important:
- The Bordeaux wine merchant selects and stores the great wines of Bordeaux.
- They are in charge of the distribution and marketing of these wines.
The vocation of the Bordeaux wine merchant is, as stated in the Union of Bordeaux Houses (UMB) is to “buy and resell”. Today, according to the UMB union around 300 Bordeaux wine merchants “sell more than 2/3 of the Bordeaux wine production. 80% of those wines are exported to 170 countries.”
As we see, the Bordeaux wine merchant is with the Château and the wine broker, the third member of a trio essential in the production, distribution and promotion of the Bordeaux Grands Crus in France and abroad.
The different Bordeaux wine merchants
Although the basis of the business is the same, we can list several Bordeaux wine merchants activities. They are often related to the type of wine that the merchants sell:
- The Bordeaux Grands Crus
- The wines known as “Châteaux” (Not Ranked, cru Bourgeois etc.).
- The wines sold under the “brand” or “name” of the merchants.
Obviously, some big Bordeaux wine merchants cover those thre activities. (Source: Bordeaux Classic wine).
The distribution of the Grands Crus Classés in 1855, the wines ranked in the Saint-Emilion classification and some other Bordeaux wines which are assimilated to them (such as Pomerol that do not have their own classification) is done by a limited number of Bordeaux wine merchants. These merchants “specialize” in purchasing “En Primeur” wines.
With the Châteaux that produce wines and the wine brokers who put in contact Châteaux and merchants, the Bordeaux wine merchant is the third key player in the Bordeaux wine industry. Although wine merchants are not as omnipotent as they were at the beginning of the twentieth century, they remain essential to promote and sell Bordeaux Grands Crus in the world.