The 2004 movie Sideways was wildly popular for its humorous (and at times depressing) commentary on modern life, so much so that it actually impacted the wine industry, specifically merlot, which was disparaged by Paul Giamatti’s character. It also revealed a fascinating subculture of people for whom wine is not just a beverage, but an intellectual pursuit and a way of life – and no doubt inspired others to join its ranks. Whether you are a veteran oenophile looking to move from sipper to collector, or new to the wine game altogether, there are important steps you must take in order to ensure that your investment is included in the inventory of your physical assets and properly cared for.
As a collectible, wine is something of a hybrid – it can be used (consumed) like a sports car or displayed like a fine piece of art. Like both items, each bottle of wine has a story to tell, from the history of the grapes and the conditions under which they were grown to the names of the previous owners. Also, like other collectibles, this history can be faked. Therefore, unless you are just planning to pair that expensive bottle of chardonnay with salmon at dinner, proper provenance must be established before you purchase it. Otherwise, it could be the equivalent of hanging a fake Van Gogh in your living room.
Your wine collection is also quite delicate and must also be properly maintained and included in the inventory of your physical assets. This includes storing it in a dark place that is consistently around fifty degrees, as UV light, heat and any fluctuations in conditions can “turn” it. Position is also important – storing the bottles on their sides prevents the corks from drying out and makes it easier to spot and remove sediment (pieces of grapes or other “sludge” that forms as a result of chemical changes as the wine ages). Any movement of the bottles should be kept to a bare minimum, as it can affect the way the wine tastes and ages. Information on how it was stored, and any other pains taken by the previous owner to preserve it, should be made clear in the provenance mentioned above.
In previous posts we have mentioned the importance of keeping a detailed, up-to-date inventory of your physical assets as they are part of a comprehensive estate management and/or succession plan. When it comes to collectibles like wine, such a catalogue can also inform your future purchases or sales. It doesn’t matter if you have ten bottles of wine or two hundred – you should have a detailed description of each bottle, including the type of wine it is, the year, and the current value. If you think that task sounds painful, imagine how you’d feel if you drink the wrong bottle (i.e., one worth thousands) by mistake! Keeping an inventory will prevent that from happening.
Don’t try to go it alone, at least not at first. The most important thing is to know yourself, and what kind of collector you wish to be. Do you love the idea of tinkering around in the cellar and reading up on wine trends and weather conditions affecting the grapes? If not, you need to think about engaging a professional wine consultant, who will not only advise you on which wines to buy and sell but ways to keep your collection safe and appreciating in value.
Finally, it’s advisable to employ digital tools. There’s an app for everything these days, including those for wine cellar maintenance; even better, however, are physical asset management solutions that enable you to store all information, including the provenance and photos of each bottle, and communicate with your consultant, vendors and favorites wineries in real time. The most important thing is to realize and remember that your wine is a not just a hobby or a conversation piece at parties, but a critical piece of your complete wealth portfolio, and should be treated as such.