En Primeur is French for "Wine Futures". It is a convenient and often cost-effective way of buying more exclusive wines early on before the batch has been bottled.
The consumer invests in a particular wine at an early stage, usually a year or 18 months prior to the actual release of the vintage. The vintage can then be delivered directly (which requires a second 'release payment' to handling costs, VAT and cover duty. Alternatively upon general release the wine can be delivered into a specially designed 'in bond' storage account. This means the bottles are placed in a customs controlled storage facility where they can be kept without being taxed.
The estimated delivery date varies from product to product due to the nature of customs and international shipping. There is also a 'release payment' indicator which will give you some idea of the amount needed should you opt for the direct delivery method. Again, this isn't set in stone because VAT, shipping rates and duty can change in the buffer period. This might sound unpredictable but estimates are never far from the truth and almost always match the estimated price.
Buying en primeur is the best way to purchase wines you want to cellar in the long-term. A case of vintage wine is also a sensitive and thoughtful gift, particularly for christenings. Other than convenience there are two other main advantages to buying vintage wines this way. Firstly, the price is generally lower in advance when demand hasn't soared. In fact, buying en primeur is often the only way of securing certain vintages at a reasonable price. Secondly, the practice of buying en primeur is so popular you might find all stocks have been allocated before release. Buying en primeur allows you to make sure that special vintage you have your eye on doesn't get away.