TRAVERSE CITY — Meridith Lauzon turns a valve on a tank of 2013 Pinot Blanc at Left Foot Charley and draws a small sample.
The normally crystal-clear nectar still is pale yellow in the glass, a sign that it won’t be ready for several more months. But already the urban winery has sold several cases of the highly-anticipated wine to eager customers.
Buying and selling wine before it's bottled is a practice called wine futures. Traditionally it's a specialty of the Bordeaux wine market but it's increasingly used for wines from other regions, including California and northwestern Michigan.
“When we started we were the only ones doing it,” said Lauzon, operations manager for Left Foot Charley in Traverse City. The urban winery began offering wine futures of its Pinot Blanc and Longcore and Seventh Hill Farm Rieslings in 2010.
She said buying futures is a way for customers to make sure they get some of the “extra special” wine, which will be produced in limited quantities of about 170 cases each this year. It’s also a chance to buy more than the usual six-bottle limit, at a bigger discount.
For instance, the futures price on the winery’s 2013 Pinot Blanc is $20 per bottle, with a minimum order of six bottles. That price will increase to $25 per bottle when the wine is released in mid-June.
“Those three wines are usually popular and sell out very quickly and there are wine collectors out there that really want those wines," Lauzon said. "So we give them an opportunity to guarantee they have it for their cellars.”
Forty-Five North Vineyard and Winery has dabbled in wine futures for a few years but is formally jumping in this year with futures of its 2012 Cabernet Franc and 2012 100-percent estate-grown Merlot, said Channing Sutton, the winery's tasting room manager. That's because 2012 "was a blessing."