People buy wine for all kinds of reasons. They like the taste, they like the buzz, they like to entertain, they like the way it goes with food, they like the people they meet and the places they go in the pursuit of happiness. I had a client who didn’t drink but he liked having a wine collection for his friends to enjoy and the status a wine cellar conveys.
And people sell wines for all kinds of reasons, too. Oftentimes there’s some big life changing event, like a death, divorce, or downsizing from one house to another. Each has its own exigencies. Maybe you’ve just lost your taste for the grape, or it doesn’t agree with you anymore.
There are people who need to weed out, and others who bought too heavily in one kind of wine, or had a change of taste along the way; still others who look at their rate of consumption with an eye to drinking their last bottle with their last meal on this mortal coil. Paring down, thinning out, changing direction, re-balancing one’s collection are as legit as any of the four horsemen of the wine apocalypse.
And then there’s money. Moolah. Benjamins.
Wine is a commodity. It has intrinsic value. There was never a time before wine. Sometime in the 18th century, John Christie resold some wine on a street corner auction in London, and here we are- wine auctions are a thriving business. The action has moved from London to New York to Hong Kong and onto the Internet. There are sales going on this weekend, and/or next weekend, and online there’s something happening 24/7. It is astounding to think about how much wine is moving around at any given time. Sellers and buyers meet happily at a price. Capitalism, hallowed be thy name.
Is this a good time to sell? In a word: Yes. It could get better still, but this is a very good time to be on the sell side of the ledger. For all the many legitimate, borderline apocalyptic concerns about the economy, wine has more than held its value. Where securities took a 30% hit in 2022, wine had a drop of 10%, maybe one bidding increment. While the fine wine market is not impervious to larger economic forces, it is highly resilient. We’re only one paddle away from the all-time high.
Of course, it makes a difference what you’ve got to sell. The blue-chip wines, the First Growths and Grand Crus are the ones that grab the headlines. Burgundy prices effectively doubled over the pandemic. There was a perfect storm: a lot of people suddenly had nowhere to go and nothing to do, and nowhere to spend any money. They weren’t traveling or shopping—they were home drinking and thinking about how they could spend some money. Suddenly they had time to read through all those wine auction catalogs that show up with Swiss watch precision. Suddenly their Saturdays were free to bid at auctions.
I haven’t met anybody who was selling because they really needed to raise liquidity…yet. There may be a lot more down to go through before we hit bottom, and I won’t be surprised if somebody wants to dump some wine to cover a short position. It’s happened before.
I was fortunate to have had some dealings with Mel Brooks a few years ago. He collected mostly very good Bordeaux from very good vintages (more?). We went to auction anonymously (“I didn’t write it. I didn’t direct it. I don’t want my name on it.”), and he did very well, a couple of things going for then-record prices. I loved every minute of talking about wine with Mel. When it was all over, I asked him if he was happy with the results. “Yeah. It’s a lousy deal…all you get is money.”
If you’re in it for the money, it goes without saying that you want to get the most money for what you’ve got. Part of that is knowing who (which auction house or broker) is offering the best deal with the best terms. We know who’s got what, and what they’ve got to offer. We do this every day. We may know to ask for things you haven’t even considered, and we can make your auction experience less stressful.
Yeah, it’s a lousy deal, and all you’ll get is money- so make the most of it.