Négociants | Wine & Grape Traders

Négociants | Wine & Grape Traders

A wine Négociant is an individual or business that purchases anything from the grapes right off the vine to completed wine that just needs bottling. There are two distinct types of Négociants, one being the Standard Wine Négociant who purchase ready-made wine and just takes on the costs of bottling, labelling and marketing. The second is the Négociant-Éleveurs who purchase grapes from another’s vines or unfermented juice, to then complete the vinification process themselves.

Négociant-Éleveur

This is a business structure favoured by the youth of the industry who are getting a foot in the door without having to own any vineyards to themselves. Additionally it provides great opportunities for established winemakers to branch out and attempt wines made from different regions that they had not previously tried.

For many centuries it has always been the wine growers who have been the most respected with their wines most in demand. With the hard work put in by the teams in the vineyards, drinkers feel as though they can appreciate and taste the hard work put in from the winemaker. Fortunately this frame of mind is going out of fashion as these forms of négoce wines have just as much effort put into them. For most vine growers selling to winemakers, there is a strong established relationship in which the vine growers know their grapes will be vinified well and come forth with decent wine. Furthermore, without these negociants, many vineyards may lay waste to their grapes or send them off to large batch houses for the making of cheap wine. The industry needs these winemakers to take these grapes that the vineyard workers would not know what to do with and fuel money back into their work and represent a beautiful terroir.

The majority of negociants you find in France are ones of the next generation and those that do not have a lineage of winemakers. With the traditional practice of passing down vineyards to the children, if you are not born from within a family Domaine then it is difficult to find vines to purchase. For a select few, such as Ivan Massonat, who have gained experience under famed producers there is the chance to secure a great Domaine and bring it into a new family. But for many, the best solution is to purchase grapes from existing owners and create their own alterations in the cellar.

Contrastingly, for those that are born into the world of wine there is often a designated amount of parcels they acquire as they continue to take over their family domaine. Yet some producers, such as Thibaud Clerget and Marc Rougeot, have wanted to dive deeper into diversifying their range and therefore turned to negoce labels. By purchasing grapes from appellations outside of their holdings they are able to create new wines that bring a unique spin to their range and start a new legacy beginning with them.

Standard Wine Négociants

Standard Négociants are there to take smaller producers under their wing and get their wine into clients' cellars across the world. Buying in bulk, bottling, and then selling wholesale is the natural process of these businesses with a complete hands off approach to the vinification. The harvesting, crushing, pressing, fermentation, and clarification is all left up to the winemaker who still gets to leave their signature in the bottle.

Giving life to Bordeaux, the négociant system brought by the Dutch in the 1600s elevated the region as a renowned collectors wine region. The system resulted in a massive surge in production, exportation, and promotion of Bordeaux wine. Starting in 1620 and escalating through the 1700s, the négociants firms were offering services from wine and food to agricultural productions. Until the narrowing of focus came to be wine, with chateau owners handing over finished wines in barrels to these businesses to complete the process of ageing, bottling, and distribution. 

At the time it was less about the costs of bottling and more to the fact they could not be bothered. These royal and rich owners did not deem the job worthy of their attention and so sent it off to be done at whatever cost they desired. For the less wealthy, the instant receipt of cash for the wine allowed them to maintain a healthy vineyard year after year without going through a difficult patch of no income.

In recent years the concept of bottling in the chateaux became a lot more popular, with a decree put through in 1967 for all 1855 Classified growths to be bottled in house. This meant an end to the Standard system in Bordeaux but many chateaux still sell their bottled wines to négociants to manage the distribution and sales of their wines.

To Note

What can bring a négoce wine down in its reputation might not be the quality but the expectation. Selecting a négoce wine from the shelf is not as simple as looking at the region stated on the front label, as some winemakers may purchase grapes from the Loire Valley but vinify it all in Burgundy. This leads you to believe you’re purchasing a Burgundy and coming away with a bottle that is definitely not. Therefore, research is always key and looking on the label for a growing region note is helpful to situate where the grapes are from and what flavours would be brought forth in the bottle.

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