A Fresh Approach To Futures

Millésima USA looks to attract a new generation to the Bordeaux futures game.

While the Bordeaux futures trade historically has been aimed at retailers, New York–based négoçiant and merchant Millésima USA has seen substantial growth in direct-to-consumer futures since entering the U.S. market in 2009. Hortense Bernard, general manager at Millésima USA, says that the company sold about 2,600 cases of futures in the United States last year, with sales doubling each year since 2014. “It was hard to convince a new generation to buy futures,” she says. “But now we’re seeing more interest. And there’s an increasing diversification among futures buyers.”

Bernard notes that U.S. futures buyers tend to fall into one of three categories: The customer who simply wants wines to enjoy; the investor seeking prestigious, high-scoring labels to eventually resell; and the collector looking to lay down wines for years. While the typical consumer skews older and more affluent, Bernard adds there is growth among younger consumers as they learn more about the futures game.

Millésima uses an email alert system that allows customers to buy futures as soon as they’re announced in Bordeaux. The company’s specialty is large-format bottles. In the past, according to Bernard, six-liter bottles were the most popular large format, but now 12-, 15- and 18-liters are seeing increased sales as well. “We’re willing to make large formats work,” Bernard says. “We buy a percentage of a vineyard’s wines and allow our customers to determine how we have it bottled. We are the only ones to offer it on all our selections.”

The company also offers customers the chance to buy Rhône futures from one producer, M. Chapoutier. Bernard says she’s excited to offer Rhône futures, but the process is extremely difficult to coordinate. Unlike Bordeaux, Rhône producers sell their wines through the system of importers and distributors that bring the majority of imported wines into the United States. To sell Rhône futures, Bernard and Millésima must establish partnerships with individual companies, which may run afoul of a winemaker’s prior export arrangements. In addition to its négoçiant business, the company also operates a retail store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Millésima became a pioneer in direct-to-consumer futures sales when Bernard’s father, Patrick Bernard, established the company in Bordeaux in 1988. At the time, that consumer-focused approach was rare, and it gave the company a unique position in the market. Today, Millésima is among the world’s five largest futures buyers, and a top mail-order wine merchant in Europe, maintaining more than 2.5 million bottles in its cellars in Bordeaux. With U.S. sales growing strongly from a small base, Bernard expects Millésima to continue carving out its niche and help lead Bordeaux’s resurgence in the coming years.

Under Bernard’s direction, Millésima USA is using its blog and social media to engage a new generation of consumers. The company blog features posts about cellaring and storing wine, as well as articles and videos highlighting specific wines. On Twitter, Millésima is a useful resource for learning about the current harvest and wineries’ release schedules. “With futures, internet sales are almost half of the business,” says Bernard. “It was 2 percent six years ago.” Globally, Millésima sells around 70,000 cases worth of Bordeaux futures each year.

Bernard is confident that the Bordeaux négoçiant system will maintain its role. “I hear often that the futures system isn’t going to continue and that it will crash down and the legal structure will not continue,” she says. “In the long run, I think that Bordeaux as an entity has the strength to continue growing. We learn from our mistakes, and the machine will bring it back together.”