Skip to main content

What’s a Négociant? Everything You Need to Know about Wine Buyers

In simple terms, it’s a wine buyer. But there’s more to it.

Think of a top-notch négociant the way you think of a skilled symphony conductor. They don’t play an instrument but they do manage to take the lead on creating wonderful sounds out of many musical parts. The wine merchant acts similarly, without a vineyard or proper winemaking facility, but with a firm grasp of what a wine might look like and how to get it made.

Ronny Hartmann/Getty Images

If that musical analogy is too much of a stretch (we don’t all go to the symphony), picture the négociant as a DJ, weaving together a masterful playlist or single track out of previously recorded samples. Or a collage artist. Enough said. 

Some have taken the role to famous heights. Unsurprisingly, some of the best known are from where the practice was born — Burgundy. Folks like Louis Jadot and Joseph Drouhin created loyal followings through their careful grape purchases and neatly assembled wines. Icons like these are born of a system (the French Revolution, mainly) that deliberately divvied up the French countryside into small vineyard parcels.

Famed larger-scale négociants such as these play an intriguing role in bringing coveted growing areas to the masses. The wines usually can’t go head to head with the complexity and singular qualities of certain chateaus, but they shouldn’t have to. They’re a fraction of the price and tend to at least offer an intriguing slice of a storybook wine region.

The négociant came in to separate the labor as well as fine-tune the focus. “You focus entirely on growing the best grapes possible, I’ll make sure the fruit is properly made into a lovely wine,” you can imagine them saying. It marked one of the first major distinctions between viticulture (winegrowing) and enology (winemaking).

Because the buying element is often plural with négociants, blending often becomes a pivotal part of the winemaking program. These industry gurus can create harmony through meticulously mixing multiple appellations and/or varieties. The best ones aren’t even doing it in real time; they know their sites and grape personalities so well — in addition to whatever details the specific vintage is throwing their way — they can picture the finished wine before the fruit is even harvested.

At least that’s how the most gifted négociants work. The definition is loose and does include those who purchase bulk juice or even finished wine, and bottle it as something else. There’s real skill involved here, too, reflected in the taste of the wine. Yet, it’s even more common to run into a merchant eager to turn a quick profit and operating at a scale that will allow them to do so, even if the wine is rubbish.

Essentially, a merchant-made wine should offer a good deal on a wine from a recognizable area. 

There are a few things to look out for when it comes to enjoying a good négociant-style wine. It’s not always listed as such, but you can at least be on the hunt for things like appellation. Essentially, a merchant-made wine should offer a good deal on a wine from a recognizable area. The fruit is likely coming from a variety of spots within that area, and perhaps a few from elsewhere, but label restrictions are generally tight enough in most places that it’s hard to falsely advertise.

Look for vintage, too. A non-vintage wine might mean blending last year’s stuff that didn’t sell in with this year’s batch. And just rely on some common sense. A drinkable $10 Pinot Noir is a hard, virtually impossible thing to come by. But a $10 Sauvignon Blanc? A $20 Burgundy? You bet. And if you don’t feel like going the taste-test route, try these reliable options:

Cameron Hughes Lot 631 Willamette Valley 2017 Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is being overshadowed by Chardonnay these days but it’s tough to ignore a variety that can offer both good flavor and a stellar deal. California négociant Cameron Hughes has put together a refreshing white, fit with a touch of added structure thanks to some aging on the lees.

A to Z Wineworks 2016 Pinot Noir

Oregon’s A to Z has become one of the northwest’s largest producers, sourcing fruit from many of the many diverse growing areas of Oregon. This Pinot Noir drinks like twice its price point, showing the fullness of the ’16 vintage while maintaining a bright, food-friendly quality.

Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé 2017 Chardonnay

Jadot’s been at it since 1859, no it’s no wonder that the label’s Chardonnay is tried and true. It’s not exactly dirt cheap, but compared to many other offerings from the Burgundian subregion of Pouilly-Fuissé, it’s a steal. A little nutty, a little zippy, and great with shellfish in particular.

Editors' Recommendations

Wine pros reveal the bottles that changed their lives
Most wine pros can think of a single bottle that made them join the industry. Here are a few of those tales.
Peter Wassam enjoying some wine.

For many in the wine industry, there was a defining moment that involved a very particular bottle. Over the course of a few sips, that wine changed the course of their lives, causing them to change career paths or give up prior dreams for a new, wine-soaked one. It's a tale as old as time in the wine industry, but the anecdotes are always entertaining. There aren't many liquids out there that can cause you to drop a successful role as a doctor or historian to become a sommelier, but that's the power of wine. Here are just some of the wine bottles that changed the lies of these professionals.

We asked some of our favorite wine professionals this question: What's the one bottle that changed your life? Here are their answers.
Josh Peeples
Peeples is the proprietor of a handful of labels, including Napa-based Elyse Winery and Institution Winery. “The experience that changed everything for me was when I visited Duckhorn Winery in 1995," he says. "I was only 18 years old and still living in my hometown of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The 1992 Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot poured for me by the owner, Dan Duckhorn, connected all of the dots: Great wine, great people, and allure of the business. Little did I know I’d move to San Francisco just three years later.”
Matt Stamp
A longtime sommelier, Stamp is also behind Compline Restaurant. He, like so many in the trade, was blown away by burgundy. “Hands down, the 2000 fixin from Domaine Mongeard Mugneret," he says. "I was just getting started in wine and was sort of nodding along as people talked about tar and earth and grass and other strange aromas beyond simple fruit. This bottle of red burgundy made me see it clearly: A whole interlocked universe of scent in a glass of wine. It made me understand how impactful smell is in our own memories and experiences. It kickstarted my desire to learn.”
Adrian Manspeaker
The winemaker and owner of Joseph Jewell Wines was moved by a wine born the same year as him. “It was my 25th birthday, and my wife and I went to dinner at Josh Ash & Co in Santa Rosa," he says. "While reviewing the wine list, the 1978 IronHorse Cabernet caught my eye. 1978 is the year I was born and, at $120 a bottle, I thought it was a really good deal considering the age of the wine. After the bottle arrived at our table, I read the back label to find that the grapes were harvested the third week of October that year — the exact week I was born. Yes, the wine was amazing, but it was all of the elements of the story that stand out to me. Wine goes beyond what’s in the glass to capture a moment in time.”
Megan Skupny

Read more
Need to reduce your daily sugar intake? Eliminate these 10 surprising foods
Sugar is sneaky, hiding itself in many surprising places (like these foods)
bacon peregrino Ibrico de bellota

It's no surprise that we as a society are eating far too much sugar. On average, American adults consume around 77 grams of sugar per day. That's more than three times the recommended amount by the USDA.
Sure, it's easy to point our fingers at the conveniently located candy bars in the checkout lane, or the super-sized sodas everywhere you turn. Easy-to-munchsugary snacks like cookies are far too easy to take advantage of. And those pretty little pastries with our morning coffee are obvious culprits, too.
What might not be so obvious, though, are the sneaky ways sugar makes itself at home in such a vast amount of the food we consume. Ice cream and candy, sure. But milk? Marinara sauce? What about those "healthy" foods with labels that read low-fat or low-sodium? We'll let you in on a little secret - if they're cutting one ingredient, they're probably making up for it with sugar.
Sugar is sneaky, creeping into surprising foods and then disguising itself with an exotic name tag on the nutrition label. Common aliases include: cane crystals, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystalline, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, and syrup, to name only a few!
So if you're trying to watch your sugar intake, the smartest thing you can do is read the label of everything you're bringing home from the grocery store, because that sugar will creep up out of nowhere if you aren't careful. To help you be better prepared, though, here is a list of foods sugar loves to hide in.


Read more
These are the best wines to add to your collection: Our top picks
There are many great wineries out there, but these brands and varieties really stood out
Shelf of vegan wines.

We've already looked at some of our favorite spirits of the year and the tastiest beers of 2022, but what about wine?

2022 was a pretty good year for wine. We welcomed new appellations to the wine map, saw an increasing number of BIPOC industry members make waves, successfully messed around with new grape varieties, and generally heightened the status of the wine scene overall. So what really stood out? Well, several brands, but not just because of the wine they produce. That's a significant part of it, sure, but we're also interested in what they stand for, from real sustainability (environmental, social, economic) to how they're changing the game for the better. Read on to hear about our favorite wines.

Read more