In the pantheon of classic fine wine regions, Bordeaux occupies a unique pride of place. Revered by collectors and connoisseurs the world over, the wines of its finest châteaux have been sought after internationally since the British market developed an insatiable craving for what its merchants called “claret” over three hundred years ago, and still do to this day. Even in the midst of ongoing wars between the two countries, merchants on both sides of the English Channel navigated around embargoes, tariffs, and other governmental restrictions to successfully trade barrels of the coveted wine and satisfy this demand.

Sheltered inland from the stormy Atlantic Coast in southwestern France, Bordeaux today produces more fine wine by value and volume than any other region of the world. Because many of its fabled estates have been under the same family ownership for hundreds of years, their wines have a unique heritage and a distinguishable style that evolves while remaining consistent over time. Vintages vary dramatically in style and character from one year to the next, though, giving rise to the en primeur system of sale, which involves a network of merchants (known as negociants) and commercial agents (known as courtiers). These valued middlemen, situated between the estates themselves and the end purchasers, have elaborated an intricate commercial system over the centuries known as La Place de Bordeaux.

This eighteenth-century engraving of the Port of Bordeaux, an active center of maritime trade, is by German artist Balthasar Friedrich Leizelt.

The essence of La Place de Bordeaux is that the wines are offered for sale in the spring after harvest, well before bottling and years before approaching peak drinkability. This is based on the overall macroeconomic context and the expected style of wine each vintage will yield due to annual weather cycles (lighter, fresher, more concentrated, richer, longer maturing) balanced against the supply side of the Bordeaux equation (how much “Grand Vin” the pedigreed châteaux in each commune produce annually). This accord provides early cash flow to the producers and their commercial agents, who make the flow of cases orderly and efficient while also ensuring access to rare wines for their loyal customers.

Per the system, the châteaux make their wines available at an opening price known as the premier tranche, and then based on how robust demand proves to be in the spring, as measured by the orders that the negociants take, the prices are adjusted (almost invariably upward) for those who chose not to buy early. The contracts to buy pass from the châteaux to courtiers who act as commercial advisers to them on the state of market demand; the courtiers then distribute the contracts to negociants, who sell the wines to importers on the overseas markets. In the United States, these importers then offer the wines to wholesale distributors, who parcel them out to the retail and restaurant trades—in some cases taking payment up front, in other cases factoring carrying costs into payments the buyers make when the wines finally arrive in the warehouse late the following year.

In 1988, the first vintage of ‘Les Pavots’ (“The Poppies,” named in honor of the Golden State’s flower) debuted, showcasing the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot from the Knights Valley Estate, Sonoma County.

In 2009, the Michael family acquired the 26-acre Oakville Estate, distinguished by its acclaimed iron-rich, red-dirt soil, and subsequently produced the first vintage of the Napa Valley wine 2011 ‘Au Paradis’ Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

La Place de Bordeaux represents an orderly, reliable, and consistent method of distribution for these high-demand luxury wines, minimizing risk and creating stability in the market. It’s a system based on trust and reputation, and also on buying commitments made for vintages with moderate demand carrying over into greater allocations of wines from high-demand vintages. Its essence is that purchase history matters, as do long-term relationships. La Place de Bordeaux works so beautifully because the wines sold in this manner are trusted names that maintain their value in the international trade and later in the auction markets, based on tradition, demonstrable quality, and trust in their authenticity. It’s the most efficient system that has evolved to guarantee the distribution of wines from point A to point B to point C, while ensuring that the expectations of all the participants in this chain of production and distribution are satisfied.

Due to the limited production of each wine, some totaling only a few barrels with each vintage, the wines are allocated to select markets and accounts globally.

Peter Michael Partners with historic negociant CVBG

As of September 2021, Peter Michael Winery’s two Cabernets, ‘Les Pavots’ and ‘Au Paradis,’ will be represented by the historic La Place de Bordeaux negociant CVBG. In 1998, CVBG led the evolution of the centuries-old system with the inclusion of Almaviva, Philippine de Rothschild’s joint venture with Chile’s Concha y Toro. Today, CVBG continues to embrace new producers extending into California to represent select family-owned wineries with notable heritage.

“We are incredibly excited to partner with negociant CVBG to represent our wines in a greater international market. We share the same values of family and quality.”
Paul Michael
“Our vision has long been that the finest wines of the world belong to the same category and should be distributed through the same channel. As such, it’s always been clear to us that Peter Michael Winery’s best wines belong in the company of the greatest. It is a true honour for CVBG to partner with such a pioneering family and contribute to the fulfillment of their vision.”
Mathieu Chadronnier, CEO of CVBG