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The future of En-Primeur BX

Having followed the EP Bx 2019 thread and its many trials and tribulations (even though the somewhat convoluted TW system is still to play out with members becoming either elated or deflated by getting or failing to get their desired allocations) is it time to ask this the question 'Have the WS got EP right or not?

Several times it has been commented that members, not having being able to order/confirm their requirements, has resulted in them purchasing elsewhere (me included) which has caused consternation amongst what is one of the most loyal clientele groups in the country.

Companies like Lay and Wheeler (in spite of recent issues) can and do offer a see/buy it system for EP which also includes attractive single bottle purchase options (handy as prices rise and case purchases become unaffordable).

Having re-read the EP thread, there are comments from members of all purchasing levels. so how do you think TWS should deal with future EP schemes and is the current system it employs both antiquated and un-commercial?

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@AnaGramWords It’s a good question, and as a wine buyer that has been both elated and deflated by the TWS EP system over the last few years it is something I’ve considered several times. I believe where I’ve landed with TWS is that on balance I support their approach. The main reason why I’m prepared to take the deflations with the elations is because their system at least offers me the chance to get an allocation of wines that I would either be priced out of, or competed out of by more commercially minded merchants. For the completely over-subscribed wines, at least they try to allocate on some sort of fairness basis… the dreaded algorithm!

The key thing for me is that there are plenty of wine merchants that offer the first come first served approach and I think TWS at least offer something different which compliments the wider EP buying system. If TWS were to turn into a L&W or J&B or BBR then we would be faced with a completely homogeneous system that rewarded only the wealthy or quick on the draw punters. The TWS approach isn’t perfect but at least it’s different and that’s enough for me.

Could it be improved? Possibly. People have discussed elsewhere the merits of a lottery system, but that would likely drive away some of TWS’s core EP supporting members which may put the whole process at risk. As I said above - on balance, taking in elations and deflations - I think they’ve got it just about right in the nearly impossible circumstances of trying to please all the people all the time*

EDIT: * offering the option of single bottles and 3’s would improve it!

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TWS is different to other wine merchants in that it’s a cooperative.
In a cooperative every member is, or at least should be, considered equal and have equal access to its wines.
I find the whole “you’ve bought these wines before so we’ll offer them to you first” antithetical to the cooperative concept.
I found the drip drip of top chateaux this year a backward step.
Yes plenty of members want these wines but they can acquire them with other merchants.
I preferred the older system.
Have one consolidated offer.
I would also like them to expand the number of mixed cases at say 3 different price points.
20+ years ago in Burgundy I got 2 bottles of Dujac in a mixed EP case. Those days are long gone sadly.

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Agree with the comment on the mixed case.

Would love to see a mix of top wines in a 3-pack!

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I think this arrangement was forced upon TWS because of the timing / arrangements of this year’s Bordeaux EP cycle.

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Interesting topic.

I agree with the view that as a co-op they should operate with that ethos at the forefront of their policy on EP, and for that reason I accept the balloting if it means that I get potential access to certain wines at a price that is as ‘fair’ as it will ever be…though I’m not sure that this is as applicable to Bordeaux as other regions with smaller quantities.

I’m not sure that the current Bordeaux EP campaign is the necessarily the best ‘template’ or example to use for it either.

All that said, whilst I think that the balloting system, where needed, is probably as good a way as any for a co-op, I do think that the current WS system is creaking and needs a good hard look.

We’ve seen examples of issues with payments taken, and inflexibility on quantities. There is also a rigidity on timing of offers which is unhelpful to many it seems, where one doesn’t know what one has got from one offer before another one has a deadline.

Therefore I think that there is most definitely room for improvement in the above areas. Allowing smaller quantities of individual wines (3 bottles may be an acceptable compromise?) and having more flexibility in dates might mean a more attractive offering to members, as well as leading to less disappointment in allocations at times. I would also suggest that those unsuccessful in applying for a wine in one vintage be given first refusal for the next one?

Therefore, I think the current system is a bit antiquated, or more accurately rigid. It’s commercial enough I think, whilst not being profit maximising.

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From what I’ve seen of prices @MarkC there is precious little difference (a couple of pounds mostly) between the major EP players.

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From a personal perspective, I used to budget for £1000 of EP’s in each vintage (other than duff years) and would hopefully secure five or six cases x12 for that figure. This has tumbled down over the years to perhaps three cases of only six bottles. Now approaching the ‘Big 70’ I am beginning to look more closely at drinking windows.
I have already decided that next year (if it is a purchasable option) I will only but in three’s. I hope TWS gives me that option.

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I agree re the Bordeaux EP this year for sure. I’ve seen some fairly big difference in Rhone and Burgundy in the past though…

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For me the current system works reasonably well - having said that I have previously bought only from the main offer, not the more expensive wines, although this year I did weaken and put in a request for Grand-Puy-Lacoste. The only time I have not been allocated the Bordeaux I requested was the 2018 vintage when I missed out on a 3 bottle case of a Pomerol that was in short supply.

I would like to see an option to buy 3 bottle cases of the more expensive wines - for me the optimum outcome of my attempt to buy GPL would be if allocations are scaled back to 3 bottles each!

In the past I have occasionally bought a wine I particularly wanted from another merchant when I wanted a guarantee of getting it, but I have not done this often.

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I wonder if this is somehow incorporated in the algorithm? I was thinking about this recently as it seemed to me if you applied and were unlucky you could possibly remain in the “least likely due to lack of support” category time after time. Even if you desperately kept trying your prospects might never improve! Admittedly you’d have to be very unlucky, but it seems harsh if however many times you tried, your chances never improved.

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I believe that is part of the allocation, yes. It’s vague but I’m sure success in previous campaigns is mentioned as one of the factors.

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Just a suggestion… I am not aware of anyone other than L+W that offers single bottles EP across a very wide range but I would have thought this would be just the sort of service that a co-op structured Wine Soc could be offering. I accept there would be an admin burden to this, but if it was tweaked say to insist that the total order was in multiples of 6, and all to be called down simultaneously, this would effectively provide a “pick your own” mixed case service. I would be happy to pay a small premium for the flexibility that would offer.

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As others have mentioned, I would hope that at the very least, as prices continue to rise, the Chateau will start offering more Bordeaux in threes…and maybe TWS can be a force in helping to persuade them to offer wines this way EP. I have certainly seen OWC’s of three on sale in French supermarkets from the likes of Lynch Bages, suggesting that at least some of these estates already package wine this way, which would be very attractive come EP time.

As far as the way that TWS run EP offers, I would echo the thoughts of some others that it does allow relative new-comers to EP or those just starting to build a cellar the chance at accessing some top wines that might not be possible without a decades long purchasing history with another merchant to slowly work your way onto their allocation list. This is probably more the case for Burgundy and some Rhone’s or Barolo’s produced in smaller quantities than Bordeaux. I have certainly been able to pop some fine wines into my reserves at semi-reasonable prices that I might not have had a chance at from another merchant, and as such TWS remains my primary source of wine by an extremely large margin.

Accepting that this year’s Bordeaux system was a one-off, I would agree that it was a retrograde step, offering all the disadvantages of other merchants systems of having to be quick off the mark, and not being able to survey the field before making purchasing decisions, whilst offering none of the guarantee’s of knowing that if you decide to buy you are likely to get it. As someone who has mostly bought Bordeaux from TWS in the past, and thus has very little purchasing history with other merchants, I have had offers through from other merchants for pretty much every wine that has been released, adding to the sense that this year’s approach offers very few advantages to the consumer. As I say, this is (hopefully) a one-off, and we can return to normal service next year!

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Having been a long term WS customer I have never found my way to the forums until now, and sadly this is due to my disappointment with how the En Primeur offer is run. After missing out on several allocations (though I was successful in others) I did some research to try and understand how these were allocated and found the whole thing a bit of a convoluted mess.

The email marketing suggests placing your order early to avoid disappointment - this is completely untrue as the timing of your order for the particular allocation you’re going for is irrelevant. After speaking to customer service to try and figure out what they deem is “fair”, which lets face it, is a subjective term, I literally am none the wiser on how one becomes successful.

The website talks about tiers and if you have bought things before you’re more likely to receive an allocation, but no where is this tiering system elaborated on. This is obfuscated process. I feel like I spend a lot with the WS but in reality I might not even be in the top 50% of customers, theres no way of knowing, so having a tiering system based on spend with no understanding of how to move up and down the tiers, and therefore improve your chances on gaining an allocation is simply ridiculous.

It’s not really a cooperative ethos as not all members are equal, and this equality isn’t transparent, IE we can’t understand where we fit as members. This only encourages members with the means to purchases elsewhere, as gaining an allocation is too much of a lottery. Apparently both the Haut Brion and Mouton were 4x over subscribed and though I placed orders quickly and keenly for these I was unsuccessful. Maybe I’m just jaded (probably) but looking into this system, I think it’s deeply flawed, and I personally will not trust to it in the future. And of course the more people that err on the side of caution and purchase elsewhere the less likely the WS will be able to continue offering these wines, especially if they lose customers to other merchants.

Michael

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It’s a shame that so many people do find their ways to the community when something goes wrong. Welcome! Hopefully finding us can be a slight silver lining. I’m beginning to wonder if we should get a wine glass etched with the wine we’re most grumpy about not getting via the current EP system (I’m not sure if mine is this years Burlotto or the Canalicchio di Sopra La Casaccia last year - or maybe I should just bulk order a Gonon branded glass and flog them to most of us, but not all of us :wink: ).

I wholly understand and share the frustration at the not knowing, and at the separation into tiers (especially as I’m someone who’s likely to be in a lower tier, but likes buying EP wines), but I also am strongly in favour of keeping an allocation system of some form, rather than moving to a first past the post/quickest finger solution. That does mean that some people will miss out on allocation, regardless of the tiering system. I know some people aren’t, but I’m also strongly pro strict limits on in demand wines - as documented on the main Bordeaux EP, I’m happy with singles, but I’d see 3s as a happy medium limit to ensure as many people get at least some of the wine as possible.

I think the issue, along with several others recently boils down to communication, rather than the system itself. In a world where customer service and good communication are king, TWS is starting to feel anachronistic and closed. They’re not quick to respond to problems and have not been up-front about them at all in situations where most companies would have been pro-active (recent issues with EP payments, which other than @laura’s excellent post on here, have not been addressed, and will be happening again with the Zorzal and Gratien offers). We’ve come to expect better communication and more transparency in our consumerism, the Society hasn’t caught up.

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Hi Michael! I’d like to second @strawpig’s kind welcome to this Community, albeit under frustrating circumstances for you.

I hope you’ll find discussion here enjoyable - and as you’re clearly a keen En Primeur buyer, I just wanted to make you aware of a private En Primeur discussions group we have, which you might like to join - there’s about 500 members there and it’s a really good place to share tips and recommendations. Once you’ve clicked ‘Join’ via the link above, head here to see the latest discussions.

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I think this has been mentioned previously, but one valid reason for keeping the “system” fairly hidden (you have to get used to worshipping the almighty “Algorithm”, which rules our vinous existence) is precisely to prevent people “gaming the system”. It is sometimes annoying but still understandable in these terms.

You can be certain if people knew exactly how it worked then it would immediately lose its fairness, and simply benefit those in the best position to manipulate it. You could always try some sort of sacrifice to the Algorithm - it’s a long shot though!

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All this talk of the Blessed Algorithm, we probably need to all go outside, turn three times widdershins and spit, lest we anger it.

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Some great responses and I’ll definitely be joining the group mentioned by @laura. I would also second the level of communication. The email that went out for the Haut Brion EP offer stated we would hear by the latest 19th of June. I actually heard today. As I pointed out to customer services these were expensive wines and waiting so long for an allocation meant maybe missing out on other offers running at the same time, or worst still having to cancel. It does seem this is a widely held frustration and I would also expect more transparency on the matter.

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