Why has confidence in fine wine increased in 2020?

Despite the headwinds of 2020 – tariffs, Brexit uncertainty and the global pandemic – the wine market has remained robust. Today’s post examines what has changed and offers an explanation as to why we are seeing greater confidence in the market during these exceptional times.

Increased liquidity

One of the key changes this year is an increase in market liquidity, which is reflected in the rising value of bids and offers on the Liv-ex marketplace. The total exposure (total value of bids and offers) reached a new record high of £81 million last week – a £30 million increase this time last year.

In recent months, both bids and offers have been on the rise. The bid to offer ratio (i.e. the total value of bids divided by the total value of offers) currently stands at 0.6. Traditionally, a bid-offer ratio of 0.5 or higher suggests positive sentiment.

A broadening market

Another noticeable difference is that more wines than ever are attracting buying interest, taking market share from the traditional strongholds of Bordeaux and Burgundy. As the chart below shows, the wine market has undergone considerable broadening in the past decade. Bordeaux’s share has halved from its peak in 2010 when it accounted for 95.7% of secondary market trade by value. As its share declined, others shined. Burgundy was the first and main benefactor; its trade share rising from 0.6% in 2010, to a record high of 19.7% in 2019. It has dipped slightly this year to 17.4%.

This year, Italy has been the big winner. Having reached an annual average of 8.8% in 2019, Italy now accounts for 15.3% of fine wine trade. As recently highlighted, the US wine market is also developing at unprecedented rate. USA accounted for just 0.1% of trade in 2010. Year-to-date, it stands at 7%.

And then, there is the Rest of the World – an increasingly diverse category. Up from 0.8% in 2010 to 5.9% in 2020, RoW trade so far in 2020 has been led by trade for Australia (1.8%), Spain (1.4%) and Germany (1%), though wines from Argentina, Austria, Chile, and Portugal to name but a few are seeing more and more activity.

What has changed?

So, why are we seeing such increased confidence in the wine market? One well-documented explanation is that investors are seeking to put their money into safer assets in these uncertain times. Historically, fine wine has offered steady returns and low volatility.  Another explanation is that there are simply more market participants than ever before. The number of wine businesses trading on Liv-ex has increased 15% in 2020 alone. This increase in members reflects a growing trend since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold – businesses are looking for web-based solutions to grow their sales.

One such solution is trading automation. Trading automation makes it easier for merchants to list stock for sale, exposing their diverse inventory to an ever-growing marketplace. Regions that once struggled to find a secondary market have been benefitting from the shift to online sales, particularly as lockdowns have closed much of the physical retail. Through APIs, stockholders have been able to list and advertise various wines to a far greater audience, as merchants have connected their customers to this ever-broadening market. Subsequently, wine merchants and private collectors have been able to find less well-known wines from a greater range of wine regions.

Despite an early swoon as the first lockdown took place, the fine wine market would seem to be in a relatively healthy place today. As a tangible, finite asset, it offers stability in a volatile world. It also of course offers a great deal of pleasure for imbibers who are locked down and deprived of their usual wining and dining! And importantly technology, as in so many sectors, has helped merchants from across the globe, to adapt, making wine more accessible and more exciting to all with an interest in it. Combined, these three things have put the wine market on a firm footing in 2020.

Source: Liv-ex

 

 

Rob Symington on Climate Change: “We Have To Be Activists”

At an online conference this week, members of the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) spoke of the need to “be activists” in order to bring about real change in the fight against carbon emissions.

Founded last year by Familia Torres and Jackson Family Wines, the IWCA is a small but growing group of wineries dedicated to ‘de-carbonizing’ the wine industry and combatting the effects of climate change.

Crucially, the group requires its members to commit to actively lowering its carbon emissions. The requirements upon joining are:

A complete end-to-end (through Scopes 1-3) Greenhouse Gas emissions inventory (which must be completed six months after joining).

At least 20% of power generated through on-site renewable energy.

Demonstrate a reduction of at least 25% in CO2 emissions for every litre of wine produced after a baseline of emissions has been established.

A commitment to reducing total emissions by 50% by 2030 and ‘climate positive’ by 2050.

Speaking at the conference, Familia Torres’ sustainability manager, Josep-Maria Ribas, explained that all the objectives are, “science based”, to allow members to work towards producing real results in how their companies and wineries operate.

Also speaking was Rob Symington of Symington Family Estates, one of the first wineries to sign up to the IWCA. He said that the big challenge when it came to meaningful change in environmental initiatives was to “avoid greenwashing”.

Not wanting to be criticized and being seen to do something had been the “usual approach” in this area for many years and many sceptics are all too eager to pounce on projects – even good ones – that lack some sort of robustness to their processes.

This is why as well as setting its own goals, Symington said that the family-run group had been, “seeking external frameworks where we’re being held accountable to things we said we would do and that’s the most effective way to avoid falling into the trap of greenwashing”.

And while Symington Family Estates, alongside Torres, Jackson and other members, are able to take control of certain emission hotspots in the vineyards and winery more directly – producing their own energy, cutting energy use, adapting their vineyards to the changing climate, etc – there’s also a strong case for ‘activism’.

As Symington continued: “Over 85% of our emissions are beyond our control – they’re produced by the brandy makers we buy spirit from, glassmakers and transportation and so on,” but, he continued, customers at all points are able to “act as lobbyists to change those emissions from our partners”, and “put positive pressure throughout the chain”.

He added that it sometimes seemed at odd for very traditional wineries to act like activists but countered it was also important to, “stick your neck out and sign up to things like the IWCA. We joined to hold our feet to the fire and to justify the steps we need to take”.

Having goals and being held accountable is vital if not only the structural systems are going to change but the culture behind them that enables those structural systems are going to change too.

But given the challenges and threat posed to vineyards and longstanding family companies by climate change, there is also a (perfectly) legitimate form of “enlightened self-interest” in being a champion for the cause, as Symington admitted.

The IWCA is currently comprised of nine members across the Americas, Europe and Antipodes, with another two apparently close to signing up. Membership is not restricted by size and Ribas added it was currently compiling an emissions calculator that would help smaller wineries be able to join and identify where to focus their efforts to meet the entry requirements without the need to hire expensive consultants.

IWCA website – https://www.iwcawine.org/

Sources:  Drinks Business and IWCA

“Connaught Bar” in London is named The World’s Best Bar, as The World’s 50 Best Bars List 2020 is revealed

The World’s 50 Best Bars were announced yesterday in London via a virtual awards ceremony, with London’s “Connaught Bar” clinching the No. 1 spot.

The awards’ list is organized by William Reed Business Media, which also produces The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

The 2020 winners

This year’s list includes bars from 23 countries, with 11 new entries.

The U.K. had the strongest showing, with bars in London accounting for eight of its nine rankings. Europe took 21 spots in total, more than Asia’s 15 and twice that of the Americas — North and South America lodged 10 slots in total.

Connaught Bar is known for its martini trolley, which allows waiters to prepare drinks at your table. Singapore dominated Asia’s rankings, with four bars being named among the world’s best, an outsized showing for the city-state that is home to nearly 5.7 million people. Tokyo registered three bars on the list, while Hong Kong and Taipei each netted two.

Sydney accounts for Australia’s three rankings, while Dubai’s Zuma bar gave the Middle East its sole award.

The full list includes

Connaught Bar, London

Dante, New York

The Clumsies, Athens

Atlas, Singapore

Tayer + Elementary, London

Kwant, London

Florería Atlántico, Buenos Aires

Coa, Hong Kong

Jigger & Pony, Singapore

The SG Club, Tokyo

Maybe Sammy, Sydney

Attaboy, New York

Nomad Bar, New York

Manhattan, Singapore

The Old Man, Hong Kong

Katana Kitten, New York

Licorería Limantour, Mexico City

Native, Singapore

Paradiso, Barcelona

American Bar, London

Carnaval, Lima

Salmon Guru, Madrid

Zuma, Dubai

Little Red Door, Paris

1930, Milan

Two Schmucks, Barcelona

El Copitas, St. Petersburg

Cantina OK!, Sydney

Lyaness, London

Himkok, Oslo

Baba Au Rum, Athens

Panda & Sons, Edinburgh

Swift, London

Three Sheets, London

The Bamboo Bar, Bangkok

Tjoget, Stockholm

Buck and Breck, Berlin

Employees Only, New York

Bulletin Place, Sydney

Bar Benfiddich, Tokyo

Artesian, London

Sober Company, Shanghai

Indulge Experimental Bistro, Taipei

Bar Trigona, Kuala Lumpur

Drink Kong, Rome

Room by Le Kief, Taipei

Alquimico, Cartagena

High Five, Tokyo

Charles H., Seoul

Presidente, Buenos Aires

 

This year, the voting process changed to highlight emerging bar scenes around the globe, said Mark Sansom, content editor for The World’s 50 Best Bars.

The 50 Best organization appointed an outside chairperson to 20 geographical regions around the world. Each chairperson then chose a voting panel for each region, which cumulatively formed the organization’s voting “Academy.”

“The 540-strong Academy is made up of drinks experts, including bartenders, bar managers, drinks consultants, brand ambassadors, drinks writers, historians and cocktail aficionados who are selected for their knowledge of the international bar scene,” said Sansom.

How will the US Election Impact the Fine Wine Industry?

US voters and political animals of all stripes are nervously/eagerly examining every potential outcome of one of the tensest US elections of recent times but what effect could the outcome have on the fine wine market and tariffs placed on European wines?

Last year the current incumbent of the Oval Office, President Trump, embarked on a trade war with the European Union over subsidies given to Airbus, part of his ‘America First policy’, while the EU hit back pointing to beneficial subsidies the US had given to Boeing.

Both sides began placing tariffs on a wide assortment of products, with the US imposing tariffs on US$7.5 billion worth of EU goods – including wine, spirits and liqueurs – as result of this dispute.

Currently, still wine (not over 14% ABV) made in France, Germany, Spain and the UK transported in containers of two litres or less; Scotch whisky; single malt whiskey from Northern Ireland; and liqueurs made in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK that are exported to the US are subject to 25% import tariffs.

An additional spat with France over taxes paid by American digital companies based in France earlier this year threatened to see the tariffs on French wines increased to 100% but this did not transpire in the end.

This has undoubtedly had an impact on the fine wine market. Italy is a country whose wines, principally from Tuscany and Piedmont, have been gaining in momentum for some time now but with Italian wines exempted from the tariffs imposed last year their trade has really taken off.

Liv-ex’s regional indices show the Italy 100 (tracking 10 of the most traded Italian labels on its platform) is up 4.2% over the last year, the second best-performing index over that period and 4.6% on the year-to-date.

Is all of this trade coming from the US? No, the UK is also getting a taste for Italian wines but it’s no coincidence that Italian vino, for which the US has long been a major market, is exempt from these taxes and now surging.

The same is true of Champagne, which was also exempt from extra tariffs. The Champagne 50 index on Liv-ex is the best-performing over the last year and year-to-date (up 6.5% and 6.8% respectively), again this is part of a long-building momentum for this category as a result of a steadily broadening market and not at all purely down to a sudden influx of US buyers.

There has also been increased activity for US wines on the Liv-ex platform in recent months. Towards the end of last month the Exchange reported increased activity for the latest release of Opus One as well as a variety of Napa labels from the 2013 vintage. October was also the best month ever for American wines traded by value on the platform.

It’s not that US buyers have shied away from staples such as Bordeaux and Burgundy completely. US auctioneers are still seeing pretty healthy prices for these wines consigned at auctions but these are wines already in the United States and so not subjected to tariffs.

Likewise Château Palmer’s recent re-release of its remaining 2010 vintage stocks actually attracted a fair amount of interest in the States, so tariffs have not killed trade in French wines dead by any means – it’s just restricted it to those with greater means. And when a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is, on average, now 10 times more than a bottle of first growth claret, what’s 25%?

And of course, US buyers can buy wine and store it in Europe, it doesn’t have to be landed in the US for decades, potentially. To assume the tariffs have ruined the fine wine market in the US is not an entirely accurate reading of the situation.

As Liv-ex’s sales director and co-founder, Justin Gibbs, told the drinks business: “It hasn’t proved to be a major dampener on the market this year, given all the headwinds.”

What of the on-going election therefore? At the time of writing, although the Democrat challenger Joe Biden is apparently edging ahead, the whole process is on a knife edge; with everything coming down to the very last votes in key states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. All too close to call for now.

Biden, seems to stand a fair chance of claiming victory in several of these states, even by the narrowest of margins, which might be enough to give him the victory.

Of course, the prospect of legal challenges and recounts exists behind that as well so nothing can be assumed at this stage. If Biden were to win, however, the immediate logic would suggest an import wind change for fine wine in the US as it could signal the end of these tariffs.

This is the argument, Matthew O’Connell, head of investment at fine wine merchant BI, has taken. He said in a recent report: “The result of the US election is almost certain to have a material impact on the wine market, with the expectation that a Biden government will reverse the European trade tariffs imposed by Trump.

“We have already seen a slowing of trading activity in Italian wine and Champagne, the two regions which have most benefited by being exempt from the US trade tariffs. It is our expectation that we could also see a significant uptick in supply of US wines, which has been lower recently, if US collectors (and indeed US-based merchants) see the potential to re-enter the market to purchase French wines, particularly Bordeaux and Burgundy, without tariffs.”

Biden has been highly critical of Trump’s tariffs, especially those placed on China, which he said have been bad for the American economy. Nonetheless, one should not hasten to imagine he would automatically, unilaterally lift all tariffs that have been imposed, especially on EU goods.

The Democrat candidate has expressed concerns in the past over those EU subsidies given to Airbus among other dealings and has displayed an extremely ‘Buy American’ message in his campaign rhetoric. Not to mention that should Biden win by the slimmest of margins and should the Senate and House of Representatives go against him or end up deadlocked, repealing what Trump has put in place may be politically inadvisable, extremely difficult if not impossible for a good while.

Gibbs, was more cautious when speaking to the drinks business. As he said: “I would be careful on this. The idea that the tariffs are purely a Trump thing is missing the mark. There are other concerns, other wines that drive markets. One might argue that at the very top end people are buying wine because they want it and will buy above the market price anyway [vis the Château Palmer re-release].

“The tariff war with the EU is an American thing not just a Trump thing. It’s a rebalancing of the relationship between Europe and America. Europe has traded on preferable terms with the US since the Second World War and the US has allowed this to happen.”

With the Cold War mentality fading into recent memory, however, this attitude as changed and it is sometimes forgotten that it was Barack Obama who actually began looking at realigning out the trade dynamic between the two blocks.

“I’d be careful assuming that Biden is going to reverse everything,” warned Gibbs.

The hope for European leaders and producers of course would be that Biden has a more free-trade approach and that he would be more flexible in future negations and discussions than Trump has proved.

With this in mind, the outlook for Bordeaux and Burgundy might be rather more positive going into 2021 – also bearing in mind that it’s unlikely anything on tariffs will be discussed by the new administration until the spring or even summer of next year.

On the other hand, one should not imagine that the lifting of tariffs is going to be a magic panacea for these two categories. Burgundy is flagging a little in some quarters because its prices have just hit an upper limit, while many Bordeaux estates continue to be hampered by their en primeur pricing strategies and the issue of stock retention which is likewise putting a cap on prices on the secondary markets, especially for more recent vintages.

A Biden victory therefore, could, of course, bring about a happy end to tariffs which would no doubt be a boon to fine wine trading at large but it would be sage advice to those betting on such an outcome not to hold their breath.

 

Sources:
Drinks Business
Liv-ex

Château Montrose Bicentenary Case Sells at Auction

To mark the launch of the Bicentenary case, Château Montrose entrusted the sale of case No. 1/200, to Hart Davis Hart Wine’s online “Finest & Rarest Wine Auction”. The auction took place on Saturday 24 October, with bidding closing at $24,000. The winning bidder, a collector from United States, will also be enjoying a memorable experience during a private stay at Château Montrose.

The bicentenary custom-designed case is a true “cabinet of curiosities” with a limited edition of 200 to celebrate our 200th anniversary. Inside are three numbered bottles in a rare 2-liter format: The 2014, 2016, and of course the 2015 bicentenary vintage, reflecting three rich and varied expressions of the Montrose terroir.  The case encompasses a cigar box and games compartment, which offers two decks of cards, two sets of dice, a set of dominoes, backgammon,150 casino chips as well as a humidifier and hygrometer.

The remaining 199 Château Montrose Bicentenary Cases will be available upon request : http://www.chateau-montrose.com/en/chateau-montrose-bicentenary-case-an-iconic-aquisition/

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