Thou art lost and gone forever, oh my darlin’ Clementine.”
Not so the fevered vein of wine invesment imagination. The wine industry’s modern day 49ers are ever optimistic, ever more prospecting in their rush for gold. See this from Will Lyons in the Wall Street Journal.
I remember the words of an erstwhile boss, Bud, and my more recently erstwhile colleague Anders: when you hit a seam, milk it, milk it until it’s dry. It’s point of view, but a little short term-ist, in my humble opinion.
This is theattitude of many in the finer end of the wine trade; as Bordeaux lolls on a lightly ebbing tide, so the marketeers move their focus onto a new investment miracle.
The King is dead, long live the King!
And so Champagne has become the latest trade darling. There is some logical reason behind this: champagne is a large market, it is France’s largest appellation after Bordeaux itself, and has a strong sense of brand which panders well to the insatiable luxury thirst rising in the East. Production is vast with wines such as Dom Perignon running into the millions of bottles – so even the likes of Lafite and Mouton pale into insignificance in comparison.
The great advantage of champagne is that it generally offers instant gratification, it is immediately ready to drink and, indeed, is readily drunk. And there in lies a quandary; yes, strict market control by the houses and their distributors means there is ample ammunition to create a secondary or parallel market, but does that mean the wines have serious long term investment value?
I fear not, the only people making investment grade profits out of this new El Dorado are the traders (Bordeaux Index and their ilk) selling to willing and gullible punters. Now, if those punters are buying just to imbibe all is well; if not, and they are being urged to invest in the wines as a future concern, I fear disappointment for all concerned.
Are many punters going to resist temptation and hold on to vast stocks of champagne?And does champagne really have the same ageability as Bordeaux or Burgundy’s finest?
Well no, not least because as champagne is disgorged, all the living organic elements present in flat red, and to a lesser extent white, wines are removed. The biological lifespan of the wine is immediately curtailed, definitively. Old champagne really is an acquired taste, somewhat akin to drinking sherry: if you like old, oxidized, fungal flavours, they are great; if not it’s probably not for you.
Furthermore, special cuvées of champagne, be they Clos de Mesnil, Salon or Comtes de Champagne, have a regular house style much more loosely associated to an idea of vintage. There aren’t any “off vintages” of these champagnes, so no wine is really more collectable than another. Their only contribution to rarity is that they are, generally, drunk sooner rather than later.
When I worked at Moët et Chandon, received wisdom was to hold a champagne for as long as it had taken to be cellared and released. A non vintage wine would be good for three years or so, a vintage for five, Dom Perignon for eight, etc. etc.
Moêt’s aged Oenotheque releases can be released ten, twenty or fifty years after vintage only because they have lain, organically intact, in Moët’s cellars since that vintage. Wines from Champagne do develop with time, and Mr Geoffroy at Moët strongly advised keeping non-vintage Brut Imperial for at least a year so it would develop vintage characteristics. But as an investment?
No, it is just speculation on the part of sellers. If they cannot make an extra buck somewhere, they have to make it elsewhere. As Jancis Robinsom points out, new markets are terrifyingly open to “ambitious pricing”. That bottle is surely worth what it is being offered at, isn’t it?
Ostensibly, I have no real objection, per se, to speculation. There will always be fools and “pigeons” willing to pay over the odds for any product. Idiots should sleep in the beds they make. But where I really do object is when this marketeering is dressed up as an investment, because investment demands a return, and not a return just for the broker. That is dishonest, and disingenuous in the extreme.
Selling something because it is good is one thing, because it is a good investment entirely something else.
Surely the long term health of the wine trade, from production to retail distribution, should be encouraged by reasonable, organic growth not short term, aspirational profit.