You'd think there would be considerable overlap between the two groups: wine collectors and wine lovers. All wine lovers have some wines stashed away, and many wine collectors genuinely enjoy drinking, not just bragging about, great wines.
In thought process, though, the overlap is less than you'd think. The wine collector position was perfectly stated in a column for Barron's last weekend by Thomas Ryder, the former head of American Express Publishing.
Ryder's column includes what might be the most arrogant statement about wine I've ever read, yet I believe it encapsulates many collectors' views. That statement is why I don't mind Rudy Kurniawan's crimes.
Ryder starts off by talking about how he fell in love with wine, sitting at the table with Paul Draper and Joe Heitz and the like; taking tasting trips to France. Stuff wine lovers do.
Then, this paragraph:
By the early '80s, I'd say I was a pretty knowledgeable collector and confident that I had the right strategy -- "best wines, best years." So, when Robert Parker created a frenzy by calling the '82 Bordeaux vintage the greatest of his lifetime, I was ahead of the rush. I bought multiple cases of Petrus for $50 per bottle, and multiple cases of First Growths for $30 per bottle.After that, he brags about his "oceans of 100 point wines," and laments his investing mistakes in wines that -- damn them -- didn't gain value. Then he wakes up and realizes that he has more wine than he can ever drink, and it's time to divest some.
And then, he writes what might be the most arrogant thing I've ever seen written about wine. I reread it a few times to see if he's kidding. He doesn't seem to be:
Sobering enough, but then came the 2005 Bordeaux vintage. With prices for First Growths starting at more than $600 per bottle and going to well over $1,500, I was offended by the sheer arrogance and greed of it. This was less a moral judgment and more an investment thesis. I believed wealthy French wine makers had taken the profit potential from us poor wine collectors, and it infuriated me that they had finally wised up. I shut my wallet. I have not bought another bottle of Bordeaux since the 2003 vintage, and I don't plan to. I prefer safer investments like pork-belly futures at this stage of my life.See what bothers him? It's not a lament like mine: I once could afford to drink Chateau Latour on a special occasion, and now I never will again. It's that those damn winemakers took away his profit potential. And he actually calls winemakers* arrogant and greedy. Somebody buy this man a mirror.
* A subtle point: he calls "wine makers" wealthy. It's a poor choice of words; what he means is "winery owners." But this is a man who works in words, and if I were a French winemaker, I'd be righteously pissed off.
Ryder later goes on to talk about some specific wines he enjoys, which he won't sell because the resale value isn't that high. Luckily he still has lots of great wines in his cellar that he actually drinks, and he writes,
Our children seem ever more interested in sharing meals with us.Collectors are good for some wineries, no question. However, I question whether they're good for the wine world as a whole.
You can make an argument that by taking the most famous wines out of reach for most of us, they've forced consumers to look elsewhere for quality, thus helping other wineries and widening our available choices. You could also argue that profits from top-end wines allow wineries to invest more in technology, improving wines at all levels.
On the flip side, though, investors throwing their money at a few top-end wines have corrupted Napa Valley Cabernets. If you spend $50 for a Napa Valley-appellation Cab from many wineries today, you're not getting anywhere near their best grapes, which are going into their special reserve picked-by-monkeys-with-golden-fingers wine for $300 to some investor who will monitor its auction value. As collectors discover more wine regions, this will happen in more places.
This "wine as commodity" mentality -- who needs Bordeaux, pork-belly futures are safer -- is the antithesis of everything that wine lovers believe. Wine goes with dinner. Wine should have a story behind it, not just a rating. You don't have to have the greatest wine in the restaurant, because different wines are appropriate at different times.
Most of all, wine lovers believe wine should be enjoyed by being drunk, not by being sat on by Smaug the dragon. Whose kids didn't want to eat dinner with him either.