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The Latest on Wine Investment

POSTED ON 01/12/2014

Having just completed the auction and investment sections for the 6th edition of Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (due out 2015), I think it would be fair to say that this is one area of wine in which Jancis Robinson MW, the Queen Bee of wine writing, finds herself holding her nose to avoid the stink. She doesn’t like the idea of wine investment, because it’s divorced from the pleasure principle behind wine drinking, but she reluctantly acknowledges that it’s part of the fine wine scene.

I don’t have too many scruples about money being made from wine, there are enough people who do it after all, but am I being sentimental in thinking that there’s a difference between the amateur collector buying two cases, typically, to finance the other one down the road, and the investor-speculator for whom wine is a commodity, albeit a luxury commodity, like silver or gold?

With the market peaking in 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson missed the right time by a couple of years but still did rather well for himself. Quitting while ahead after laying down wine since 1991, the former Manchester United manager netted a cool £2 million on the sale of his wines, his so-called ‘star players’, at Christie’s this year. His cellar showed all the hallmarks of the investment consultant at work: Bordeaux first growths, Petrus, Gaja’s single vineyard Barbaresco, Sassicaia and sexy Pomerols and Burgundies, including, the ultimate in wine investment sexiness, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

If you have money to burn, it’s deeply fashionable today to invest in wine as part of a portfolio. SWAG is the acronym for silver, art, wine and gold, respectable, alternative investments, that is, for anyone with money to invest and a desire to diversify a portfolio. Fine wine investment may bring cachet to such a collection, but is it still offering decent returns?

Although no-one can put their finger on its exact value, the secondary market for fine wine market has been estimated to be worth in the region of £4 billion. The global financial crisis of 2007 / 2008 and the ensuing credit crunch caused jitters, but it was offset to an extent by a period of renewed optimism in the saleroom when Hong Kong financial secretary John Tsang set Hong Kong up as Asia’s fine wine hub by announcing the abolition of duties on wine in 2008. Hong Kong buzzed with excitement at the prospect of Chinese riches and all the big auction houses piled in.

Fine wine prices peaked in 2011 with average wine auction lot prices at $3,940, dropping to $2,813 last year. Since the highs of the saleroom in 2011, the subsequent decline has been mirrored by a fall in the Liv-ex 100 index, one of the most reliable of the various fine wine price indicators, which has shrunk for three consecutive years since the peak of 2011. All ships sink in an ebb tide and in tandem with the economic downturn, Bordeaux, which, accounts for the lion’s share of fine wine trading, has been mired in stockpiling problems after setting the price bar too high for three unattractive vintages in a row.

Saleroom activity has slowed, and estimates for sale lots at auction have also gone down. At the same time, many of the wine funds often set up offshore to help investors channel money into tax break operations have sailed close to the rocks or even hit them on occasion as the value of their portfolios plummets and impatient investors have asked for their money back. The Vintage Wine Fund for instance, once boasting $110m in assets, had to be wound down last year, while another big fund, Nobles Crus, has been hit with requests for redemptions.

If as an individual collector you had bought Bordeaux en primeur (which has been jokingly re-named non-primeur by one exasperated UK wine merchant) from the 2010 vintage, the last great Bordeaux vintage, the value of your wine will still, with few exceptions, be lower today than it was when you bought it more than three years ago.

Yet another alarm bell has rung loudly across the oceans, namely the increase in counterfeit and fraud. The most recent and most high profile case is that of the Indonesian confidence trickster, Rudy Kurniawan. When his house was raided by federal agents, they found an arsenal of wine-faking impedimenta whose purpose was to create counterfeit wines for sale at auction, through brokers and consumption at fancy dinners.

After he’d made a fortune out of fooling a gullible wine collector community into believing they were drinking what the wine said it was on the label, fate finally caught up with the con man. Kurniawan was convicted and sentenced for 10 years on 7 August in New York. He was also ordered to pay compensation to his victims totaling $28.4 million and to forfeit property worth $20 million. Yet wine fraud doesn’t end with one man’s conviction. The problem of just how many of his forged wines are floating about the oenosphere is compounded by yet further frauds known and as yet unknown.

The spur to much of this fraudulent activity has been the lure of financial gain thanks to skyrocketing prices for the world’s finest wines. Not surprisingly, provenance and condition have moved to centre stage. Tough new anti-counterfeit measures currently being adopted by top châteaux and domaines, including laser technology and prooftagging, could help to restore fragile confidence at least in younger fine wines, although it’s too late for older wines already in circulation.

Ironically, despite economic woes and frauds, a handful of wines continue to defy the laws of financial gravity. Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the current darling of the investment market, is the locomotive behind a handful of emerging Burgundy stars. Deluxe champagnes Krug, Cristal, Dom Pérignon and Salon le Mesnil are enjoying their moment in the sun, Italy’s ‘supertuscans’ such as Ornellaia and Sassicaia are growing in demand. Despite the fact then that wine investment has taken a dent in confidence, history tells us that sooner or later, it will bounce back and the hard lessons learnt yesterday will be forgotten in an unseemly rush to diversify portfolios.

Chinese Version

文 /Anthony Rose 译/ 张 然
葡萄酒投资的新动态
经济低迷和造假欺诈冲淡了葡萄酒投资者的信心,但市场终会反弹。
Anthony Rose
常住伦敦。英国葡萄酒记者和作家,在www.independent.
co.uk开设周专栏。也为Decanter、 The World of Fine Wine
等杂志供稿。很多知名葡萄酒大赛的评委和主席。The Wine
Gang 的创办人之一。博客www.anthonyrosewine.com.,微
博Anthony _ Rose。
刚刚完成了J a n c i s R o b i n s o n 主编
的《牛津葡萄酒百科》(O x f o r d
Compan ion to Wi ne)一书的新版
(2 015 年计划出版)中关于拍卖和投资的章
节,我想可以这么说,作为葡萄酒写作领域的
女王,Jancis Robinson MW自己对这一领域是
毫不感冒的。她本人并不喜欢葡萄酒投资这
个想法,因为葡萄酒投资让饮酒悖离了快乐
的准则,但是她也不得不承认葡萄酒投资的
确是精品葡萄酒世界的一部分。
我倒不太在乎从葡萄酒中赚钱这回事,毕
竟许多人是这么做的,但是我在情感上认为,
投资者有两种,一种是业余收藏家,通常是买
两箱酒以养另一箱酒;一种是投机者,只把葡
萄酒单纯作为一件商品,比如是黄金白银那样
的奢侈品。两种类型的投资者,区别非常大。
亚历克斯· 弗格森爵士( S i r A l e x
Ferguson)有好几年错失了不少机会,但抓住
了2 011年的市场高点,所以他还是葡萄酒的
成功投资者。自从1991年开始收藏葡萄酒,这
位曼联前主帅在今年通过佳士得拍卖行赚得
200万英镑,拍品包括波尔多一级庄、柏图斯、
Gaja的单一葡萄园、西施佳雅,以及顶级波美
侯和勃艮第名酒DRC,这些都被他称为“明星
队员”。
如果你有足够的钱来烧,葡萄酒投资是
当前热门的投资组合的一部分。SWAG指的是
白银(silver)、葡萄酒(wine)、艺术(art)和
黄金(gold)的缩写,这些体面的、非传统的
投资项目,适合任何想要投资并想让投资组
合多元化的人。精品酒投资带来名望,但它仍
会有相当好的回报吗?
虽然没有人可以精准测算出葡萄酒投资
市场的实际价值,精品葡萄酒的二级市场估
值大约4 0 亿英镑。2 0 07年到2 0 0 8年的全球金
融危机以及随之而来的信贷紧缩引起市场恐
慌,但新的好消息冲散了这些不安,香港财政
司司长曾俊华宣布从2 0 08年起取消葡萄酒关
税,让香港成为亚洲的精品葡萄酒中心。香港
随即忙作一团,为中国大陆的消费前景而兴
奋,各大拍卖行也把香港列为重镇。
精品葡萄酒的价格在2011年达到顶峰,当
时的葡萄酒拍品均价3940美元,这一指标在去
年下探至2813美元。自从2011年的市场高点之
后,随后的跌幅反映在了Liv-ex指数上,这是
最可靠的精品葡萄酒的价格指数之一,自2011
年开始,该指数连续三年呈现下降趋势。所有
的船只都在经济低潮中沉没,占据精品葡萄
酒贸易最大份额的波尔多酒在这期间也因为
连续三个普通年份定价过高,深陷于存货过多
的困境中。
目前的市场交易已经放缓,拍卖估值也
有所下降。与此同时,许多葡萄酒基金设立了
离岸交易以帮助投资者进行减税操作,投资
组合的市场价值直线下降,不耐烦的投资者
要求收回投资。例如曾坐拥1.1亿美元的T he
Vintage Wine Fund 在去年也受到重创,而另
一个大型基金Nobles Crus也遭遇买家的赎回
请求。
然而,另一个警钟已经在地球另一端响
起,即葡萄酒的伪造和欺诈。新近最引人注目
的例子是印尼酒商 Rudy Kurniawan的招摇撞
骗行径。当联邦政府搜捕其住所后发现了大
量用于制造假酒的材料,他企图把假酒在拍
卖会上出售,或通过中间商卖出,让假酒摆上
奢华晚宴的餐桌。
靠愚弄那些容易上当的葡萄酒藏者们,
让他们轻信所得即酒标上所写, Kurniawan
发了大财。Kurniawan于今年8月7日在纽约被
定罪,被判处10年监禁。然而,究竟有多少他
伪造的葡萄酒在全球市场上流通,被未来的
骗子所利用,这是一个未知数。
虽然新的防伪措施已经被不少顶级酒
庄所采用,这些措施包括激光技术和防伪标
识,这至少可以帮助人们对较为年轻的精品酒
市场的脆弱信心得以恢复,但对于已经在市
面流通的老年份葡萄酒来说这已为时已晚。
讽刺的是,尽管有经济危机和欺诈行为,
但仍有少数葡萄酒可以抵抗这种市场低迷。
勃艮第的DRC,当前葡萄酒投资市场上的宠
儿,正带动一些勃艮第新星往市场高处走。奢
华香槟库克、水晶、唐培里浓和沙龙正享受着
他们的荣耀,意大利的“超级托斯卡纳 ”如
奥内拉亚和西施嘉雅的市场需求都在不断增
长。尽管投资市场紧缩,但历史告诉我们,市
场迟早会反弹,而昔日教训也将在多样化的
投资冲动中被遗忘。
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