Sotheby’s Retail has introduced an ‘Instant Cellars’ concept, giving customers in the US and Hong Kong the chance to buy wine collections for drinking, cellaring and investment.

In the US, these cellar ‘starter packs’ range from a simple introductory cellar costing US$5,000 to a collection costing US$25,000, with two further options in-between; while only two options are, currently, available in Hong Kong.

The number of wines, choice and average bottle price changes from cellar to cellar and includes a consultation with a specialist in order to arrive at a final selection that suits the tastes of the individual.

The selection of wines available also differs slightly between the US and Hong Kong but covers all the basics of French, Italian, Australian and US fine wine

All of the cellars, once chosen, can be delivered to select US cities or within the Hong Kong SAR in 24 hours.

The options available in the US include:

  • Cellar 1 – ‘Introductory’: 50 bottles of wine with an average price of $115; the customer chooses 25 wines, two bottles of each. $5,000
  • Cellar 2 – ‘Intermediate’: 72 bottles of wine with an average price of $150; choose 36 wines, two bottles of each. $10,000
  • Cellar 3 – ‘Enjoyment’: 165 bottles of wine with an average price of $165; choose 55 wines, three bottles of each. $25,000
  • Cellar 4 – ‘Investment’: 90 bottles of wine with an average price of $300; choose 15 wines, six bottles of each. $25,000

The full list of wines for each cellar include:

  • Cellar 1 – 2004 Dom Ruinart; Bernard-Bonin 2015 Meursault Vieilles Vignes; 2009 Branaire-Ducru; 1996 Calon-Ségur; 2005 Langoa Barton; 2009 Montrose; 2014 Denis Bachelet Gevrey Chambertin Vieilles Vignes; 2013 Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia; 2013 Ulysses.
  • Cellar 2 adds – 2008 Louis Roederer; 2010 Climens; 2013 Pavillon Blanc; 2014 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne; 2011 Comtes Lafon, Volnay; 2006 Forts de Latour; 2013 Ornellaia; 2013 Claude Dugat, Gevrey Chambertin.
  • Cellar 3 adds – 2009 Dom Peerignon (Tokujin Yoshioka edition); 2002 Pol Roger Winston Churchill; 2013 Aile d’Argent; 2015 Domaine Leflaive, Puligny Montrachet Clavoillon 1er Cru; 2009 Hosanna; 2001 Léoville Las Cases; 2005 Vieux Château Certan; 2005 Montrose; 2007 Prieuré-Roch, Nuits Saint Georges Clos des Corvees; 2011 Solaia and 2013 Araujo.
  • Cellar 4 – 2012 Angélus; 2009 Pontet Canet; 2014 Geroges Roumier, Chambolle Musigny; 2009 Pavillon Rouge; 2008 La Mission Haut-Brion; 2015 Robert Groffier, Chambolle Musigny Les Hauts-Doix 1er cru.

Here is the breakdown – The US$5,000 entry-level instant cellar includes some of the best French Burgundy and Bordeaux, as well as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Italian Barolo. At the high-end of the spectrum, Sotheby’s offers two US$25,000 cellars, which give potential buyers a chance to purchase either a range of top-flight wines for “enjoyment” or a more select group of top red Burgundy and Bordeaux for investment.

The “enjoyment” cellar, as Sotheby’s has dubbed it, includes 55 different wines, for a total of 165 bottles. The range of wines chosen is designed to give future collectors a chance to explore and discover what kinds of grapes, regions, and styles they prefer. Fans of white Burgundy, for example, have eleven selections to try, offering the chance to compare styles of winemakers and different vintages.

The cellar includes two white Burgundies produced by Domaine Leflaive in 2015, a Bourgogne Blanc, which is the most generic appellation for white wine in Burgundy, and a selection of premier cru, a designation in Burgundy a notch below the top-tier Grand Cru that’s only given to single vineyard wines.

Buyers can decide whether they prefer one over the other, or compare Leflaive’s Burgundies to two examples of 2015 white Burgundies produced by Jean-Noel Garnard.

The “investment” cellar, by contrast, includes only 15 selections of red wine, with six bottles of each, meaning the average price of each bottle is US$300. The 90 bottles are more or less evenly split between Burgundy and Bordeaux, and are from top producers and vintages expected to grow in value. Examples range from a 2005 Vieux Château Certan from Pomerol, Bordeaux to a Domaine Anne Francoise Gros Echezeaux Grand Cru from Côte de Nuits in Burgundy.

Sotheby’s is also offering two versions of the instant cellars in Hong Kong: an introductory cellar of 46 bottles for HK$33,000 and an intermediate cellar of 62 bottles for HK$70,000.

For the collection management and advisory business, Sotheby’s is targeting clients who are eager to build a cellar but aren’t confident in their tastes, or what they should buy. For an annual fee Sotheby’s will work with these clients to ascertain their preferences (“we have a fun questionnaire,” Gilbert says), but it’s up to the client how much they want to be involved and “how much they want us to take the reins,” she says. Sotheby’s will even buy wines from “trusted sources” outside the company, as well as from Sotheby’s, and will help install and manage the inventory.

For long-time collectors, Sotheby’s can help track inventory, as well as guide clients on what wines to drink, sell, or continue to age.

Sotheby’s will charge an undisclosed annual fee for its wine advisory services, while the fees for collection management will be tailored to the individual needs of each client.

Sources:  Drinks Business and Sotheby’s


In case the worst happens …

From time to time a private collector will ask me to review his or her wine collection; to examine its content, evaluate the bottles, offer a few pointers on proper storage techniques, wine recommendations and followed (of course) by a few glasses — my favourite sort of recompense. Personally, I would argue that every fine wine collection should be examined at least once a year by a second, seasoned pair of eyes to make sure all conditions have been met. What I look at is to see that the temperature is constant and accurate, the humidity is appropriate, the racks are securely fastened, there are no pungent odours or leaks coming from the shelves or walls, inventory has been properly maintained, and so on.

In the wine industry, Insurance appraisals are highly recommended with an inventory of 10 or more bottles. Such appraisals are an invaluable tool toward maintenance and perpetuation of an ‘active’ fine wine collection, a collection that is both enhanced and depleted by the continuous compilation and heavenly consumption of its contents. And yet, all too often the collector will advise me that they have neglected to insure their collection. The reason? Most commonly, it just never occurred to them that their collection needs to be protected against fire, theft and breakage and a broad range of other losses.

Most fine wine collectors tend to be immensely proud of their liquid assets, their vinous pride and joy, which they might have spent decades building up, sourcing rare bottles from esteemed estates and the finest wine shops, housing them in state-of-the-art, custom-built vaults. You’d think that such individuals, oftentimes outstandingly moneyed, would be more concerned about a ‘worst case scenario’ befalling their collection! Not so.

There are, in fact, companies that specialize in providing comprehensive insurance policies for collections of fine wine. Recently, I sat down with Katja Zigerlig, Collections Specialist for Chartis Insurance, at Reds Bistro in Toronto. Over a few glasses of Flat Rock Cellars 2007 Chardonnay (VQA Twenty Mile Bench (88/100, $16.95)), it quickly became evident that the practice of proper fine wine insurance isn’t something to be taken for granted. According to Katja, “the majority of wine collectors do not have adequate insurance. They accumulate wealth in their cellars, but few think about the perils facing their ‘liquid’ investments.”

Initially, Katja addresses the subject of purchasing premium wines for investment. A subject of considerable controversy, and not necessarily for enjoyment (though a few bottles might be cracked open here and there), thus driving up the price of such wines for less affluent enthusiasts – is neither new nor going away anytime soon. Without question, the benefits of collecting fine wine as an alternative investment can be exceedingly attractive. For Katja, “Building a wine collection is not just a passionate pastime; it can also be a savvy financial move. Investment-grade wines – including high-end Bordeaux, Burgundies, and cult California Cabs – have consistently held their value. Many investment-grade wines get better with age, giving the collector time to decide whether they want to drink or sell select bottles.”

I asked Katja what kind of perils can befall a collection, particularly those found in southern Ontario? For Katja and her team, one of the greatest risks is water damage caused by busted pipes in cold weather. To combat this, it is always recommended to leave some space between the floor and the first row of wine racks, as well as to avoid placing cases directly on the cellar floor.

And the other risks? Katja states that “we find most claims result from five areas: temperature control malfunctions; theft or disappearance; power outages; water damage from flooding; and bottle breakage.” In the end, the owner of any fine wine collection ought to make efforts to minimize such risks, while at the same time ensuring they have adequate coverage in case the worst happens.

How do you calculate the value of your collection? You will probably have an idea of how much your collection is worth but for the purposes of obtaining insurance, this will simply not do. It is imperative that the provenance of each bottle (ex. proper transport) be verified as best as possible. Katja states that “If bottles are not tracked properly, it is much harder to determine how much insurance coverage is needed.” Next, one must go through the admittedly arduous step of determining the approximate value of each wine, something your insurance provider can easily guide you through. At the same time, your storage area will need to be assessed for potential hazards, otherwise referred to as “risk management.” This accomplished, you will now be able to decide on which policy is best for you.

On a general level, Katja states that a good wine insurance policy should include “broad, customizable coverage; mechanical breakdown coverage; immediate coverage for new acquisitions; worldwide coverage; and coverage for bottles in transit.” Even if you continually add and subtract wines from your collection (‘active’ collection), there are “blanket policies” available.

To protect your investment of both time and money against catastrophes, befoul (nasty stenches), minor earthquakes or other incidents, I highly recommend that you have your collection inspected and evaluated by a professional wine cellar expert and he will then direct you to an independent insurance agent or broker.