New Labels for Old

POSTED ON 08/02/2011

Sooner or later, you feel, or you certainly hope at least, that the One Big Idea will come along and earn you millions, as the inventors of Google and Microsoft can attest. So I’m thrilled to announce that I am soon very much anticipating joining Soros, Gates, Buffet et al as rich beyond my wildest imaginings. Ok maybe that’s overegging the pudding a bit, but comfortable shall we say. However, while their fortunes were earned in the heady worlds of finance and technology, mine derives from a far nobler source, that, of course, of wine.

Nice Wine Shame About The LabelNice Wine Shame About The Label

Last week I received an email from Stephen Williams of the Antique Wine Company. The email contained details of a sale of some of the finest wines available to humanity (yes, we want them here and we want them now), among them La Tâche, Romanée-Conti, Yquem, La Mouline, Cheval Blanc and so on and so forth. These wines were being bin-ended not because there was anything wrong with them. Far from it. Their authenticity and their provenance were not in question. So why the big reductions? Because of stained, faded, torn and bin-soiled labels and damaged capsules. Is that all, I hear you ask? All because of a silly dirty label?

Well yes, precisely and that was exactly my reaction. Only instead of sitting on my hands as I usually do and fretting, I immediately decided to launch a new business, New Labels For Old. All I had to do was call the château and say, look my old son, half your wines are being sold at knockdown prices just because of a dirty label. What you have to do is stick on a clean one in exchange for the old one, and hey presto, it will burnish your image and give you a bit of probably much-needed pin money at the same time. As for the delighted owner of the bottle in question, for the smallest of fees (PoA), it puts hundreds, if not thousands of pounds back on the value of his or her wine. A no-brainer, as the Americans might say.

Pleased as punch as I was with this eureka moment, I thought it would only be fair to contact Stephen Williams and the likes of Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners to give them the opportunity to share in my excitement, if not my new-found wealth to come. To my amazement, they didn’t seem thrilled or excited at all. ‘We used to do exactly as you suggest for many years’ said Stephen Williams. ‘However there is an increasing reluctance or often refusal by the châteaux and domaines to re-cork, re-capsule or re-label bottles in today's world. At Lafite for example, there is now a formal policy in place to not touch and bottle in any way, once it has left the château’.

That's Torn ItThat's Torn It

Talk about the helium escaping from a balloon. There was more. ‘Also, such re-labelling used to be a costly exercise in time and energy, and quite frankly its easier and our preference to discount and enable enthusiastic consumers to snap up a bargain. It’s also interesting how attitudes are different towards bottle appearance in the various markets. Generally speaking Europeans like to see old wines looking old and dusty, whereas Japan and China want to see perfectly polished bottles with perfect labels regardless of age’.

Nonsense, he’s just jealous, I thought, so I decided to contact my old pal, Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners and inform him of my wonderful new idea. Blow me down if he didn’t agree with Stephen Williams.

‘Great idea but sadly impossible’ said Stephen charitably. Pray why? ‘It would be brilliant for Farr Vintners if every bottle that we removed from ideal, cool, damp cellarage could be re-labelled for re-sale to the Chinese, who care more about appearance than contents. Unfortunately all the leading châteaux of Bordeaux absolutely refuse to do this. They say that they need a strict policy so that they can eliminate the risk of fakes but of course it is totally in their interests to keep the number of immaculate-looking bottles in the world as low as possible and the market price as high as possible!’

Breaking Up is Easy to DoBreaking Up is Easy to Do

More helium leaving balloon. There was I with the only truly original idea I’d had since discovering you can clean a decanter with Steradent only to discover that two wine merchants (at least) had already had the same idea and that it was unworkable. Or was it? Aha. Aha. The penny dropped. The two Stephens are in cahoots. They have got together and formed their own business to persuade the châteaux to exchange new labels for old. Damn! Or rather not damn. Little do they realize it, but as an ex-lawyer, I have been astute enough to patent the copyright for my invention, so fortunately no-one can steal New Labels For Old from me. No, it looks like the answer really does lie in the soiled.

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