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I am so over collector-investors!

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I was reading Asimov’s blog the other day at The Pour where he talked about a story he’d read in Wine Spectator (you can find the link on his blog) about how one rich collector-investor is suing another rich collector-investor over something or other. (Decanter actually wrote about it too.)

The more I read it, the more I thought, Who cares? And suddenly it hit me:

I AM SOooo OVER COLLECTOR-INVESTORS!!!

I used to cover them for the Spectator back in the day. There was the über-rich Palestinian from La Jolla, the Texan with one of the country’s most massive collections (he eventually became a born-again Christian and gave up drinking), the Chicago medical tool manufacturer who kept his own stash at Fleur de Lys, a clutch of wealthy Memphisites (Mephistos?), the Bay Area dentist who spent $30,000 on a party for his wine-drinking friends, the Central Coast guy who had every vintage of Mouton-Rothschild made in the last 150 years, the University of California professor who gave America’s greatest tastings, the Hollywood producer who shacked up with a major star, and so on. These guys loved getting their names and, better yet, their pictures in the Spectator, so they gave me access.

I respected their knowledge and passion, and most of them actually were very nice people. But when I left Spectator for Wine Enthusiast, they stopped returning my phone calls — literally overnight. I realized that whatever relationships I’d thought we’d had were fantasies on my part. They had no use for me once I couldn’t get them into W.S. They were, in the truest sense, snobs.

Those vestigial memories were resurrected, unpleasantly, when I read Eric’s blog. But something else left a sour taste in my mouth, and it was this: Not only am I over collectors, but the very notion of collecting for investment seems somehow anachronistic and vulgar to our times and sensibility. And so does covering collecting, in the journalistic sense, with those awful charts about auction bottle prices, as if wine were pork bellies. Maybe some people get off on that stuff, but I think most people read wine magazines to read about wines, winemakers, wine regions and so on.

Who cares what Lafite went for at the latest Christie’s auction? Have you ever bought Lafite at an auction? Neither have I. Do you think you ever will? Neither do I. Do you know anyone who has? Neither do I. I’m glad Christie’s and all the others exist and provide jobs for people, but the whole notion of wine as an investment commodity, which is repugnant enough, is made all the more distasteful for the state of the economy, when so many people are hurting. I’m sure conspicuous consumption will always exist, but why give it attention and even praise? These “collectors” are marginalized outliers, and the results of their venal activities need not concern the true wine lover.

Look: Collecting wine for the sake of properly aging it is a beautiful thing. Everybody should do it, to the extent they have the space and can afford to. But collecting for the sake of trading at auction isn’t really collecting; it’s hoarding.

Anyway, forgive the rant. Had to get that off my chest. Tomorrow, a more pleasant topic.

munch-the-scream

  1. As our friendly and crazy leader of Bonny Doon said:

    “Wine is infinitely mysterious, it can’t be reduced to point scores, or reduced to anything. It is so totally weird and surprising. The best thing we can do is protect our sense of wonder and awe.”

    Personally, I’d lump wine scores into a similar area but we already know that you and I respectfully disagree on that topic :-)

    Cheers!

  2. Steve…I hear you..wine is a beauty thing when savoured…when shared with friends who love it…when, in a private moment, swirling the liquid in your mouth, sucking in air to really get the full flavor of the wine, you realize that the wine in your mouth is something special. I suppose that maybe “some” of those people have a love of wine but it doesn’t sound like it.

    Its like when I watch a Yankees game and see people in the $2500 per seat area talking on their cell phones almost all night…are they truly that bored with life.

    They probably toss down the wine without knowing if it was a wonderful 25 year old Bordeaux or a 2007 wine from an unknown winemaker in Chile.

    Should we care? As I think you have said emphatically “NO”…let raise our glass to the true wine lovers out there.

  3. I was never “under them” but I get what you’re saying. I once spent the afternoon with a “collector” and he opened magnum after magnum of wines that most people only dream of tasting. He opened them, tasted them, poured us some and moved on to the next just leaving the half drunk bottles of beautiful wine just sitting there…..rather than be tahnkful for him sharing I thought he was an asshole. Show a little respect, that’s a magnum of 82 Krug you just pushed aside….crushing.

  4. Steve,
    Great Point. I know as a winemaker, I hate to see bottles ferretted away only to be sold later. Stashed away to be enjoyed in a few years or more is absolutely fine. Winemakers make wines with the hope that someone will drink and savor them when the time comes.

    Thanks!

  5. Samantha, they take it for granted they’re entitled, I guess.

  6. “I’m glad Christie’s and all the others exist and provide jobs for people, but the whole notion of wine as an investment commodity, which is repugnant enough, is made all the more distasteful for the state of the economy, when so many people are hurting. I’m sure conspicuous consumption will always exist, but why give it attention and even praise? These “collectors” are marginalized outliers, and the results of their venal activities need not concern the true wine lover.”

    Steve: I honestly don’t see the difference between using my cold hard cash to buy a mutual fund, a 12-month Certificate of Deposit, a rare coin or a bottle of Lafite. They are each investments, places folks believe, for good reason, they can place their money and see it grow.

  7. I guess I see yur point, Steve. But perhaps a lot of them simply want to make more money so they can support their expensive drinking habit…Hundred Acre, Harlen, Bond, Merus, Scarecrow, Screaming E. Maybe to them these are ‘house wines’. Is collecting and investing in wines any different than collecting/investing in stocks (somebody built a business from scratch), cars (those autos were built by real people), gold (miners put their lives on the line). Why are these not repugnant pursuits? Perhaps to you they are. In the end, wine is a business. Yes, some of the winemakers loftingly consider themselves artistes, but in the end if there is no demand for your wine (created by buzz and marketing) then you won’t grow and be more successful – as a business.

  8. Morton Leslie says:

    Regarding knowledge and passion, I have rarely seen it in a collector of these wines exhibit those traits. The only one that comes to mind was Barney Rhodes, but he was one of a kind. Knowledgeable, self effacing and a true gentleman.

    More often I have seen the collector hire a consultant to tell them what to buy. Many times that consultant is paid to actually make the purchases, manage the cellar, and invite winemakers to dinner when the collector wanted to show off to their friends. Usually the motive behind the collecting has less to do with loving wine and more to do with ego. I too was used a few times, but I was quickly “over” the collector decades ago.

  9. Morton, Amen, Barney Rhodes was a fine gent, and his wife, Belle, was a nice lady. (I don’t know if she’s still living.)

  10. Chris, yes, to me investing in wine is different from stocks. Maybe I’m being irrational. It’s the way I feel.

  11. Tom: I guess…do you know any good deals where I can get double-digit interest on wine without risk?

  12. Steve: Yes i do. First Growth Bordeaux. Wait….what time period are we talking about?

  13. Well we’re stuck in the 1980s, so I guess, do you have any insider info on the ’82s?

  14. Steve,

    Belle Rhodes passed away in 2007 and Barney in 2008. He had an amazing collection of wine, but he was not a collector in the way the term is used here. He was a lover of fine wine and his cellar was meant for enjoyment.

    I think that most wine lovers are not investors but collectors in the best sense of the word. They buy what they love and want to have around for the right occasion. Even when their enthusiasm causes them to buy too much, as my wife often reminds me about my “collection”, it is not as an investment in anything but future enjoyment.

  15. u would think everyone could just sit down and have a drink and talk it out!

  16. I’m sure there are PLENTY of `82 Bordx’s on the market, guys. In fact, I’m willing to bet there are more `82s out there then were ever possibly produced by the Chateaus themselves! :-)

  17. Barney was very helpful to me early in my career. He explained a lot of the mysteries of old wine. He also knew everything about Napa’s history.

  18. That’s really upsetting about those “friendships.” It’s like you were used.

  19. Dylan: duh. “Used” is putting it mildly.

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