Wine investment fraud may run £30 million a year according to a source in a BBC investigative segment that aired last night. It’s interesting, though hardly surprising, to note the fraud story moving beyond simply counterfeit bottles.
The segment on wine fraud highlighted an investor group that lost 50,000 when the wines it purchased were never delivered. While it is tragic, it’s even more tragic that one of the bilked investors admitted that he couldn’t afford to lose the money. Perhaps he should have bought wines to drink, rather than ones for speculating on.
Simon Staples of BBR in London cites 400 percent returns on wine in 18 months. Jim Budd notes that he keeps a list of 60 merchants that he wouldn’t deal with and cited the £30 million a year figure. What do you think of that estimate–low or high?
Nordic divers have found a cache of old champagne bottles on a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. Christian Ekstrom (pictured above via BBC) and his dive partners could not contain their enthusiasm at finding the intact bottles that may date from the late 18th century. So they brought one to the surface, uncorked it, and had a swig. Which statement below captures their reaction?
A) “Damn, it’s only nonvintage yellow label, which hardly keeps from one Christmas to the next. Oh, and the bloody thing is corked!”
B) “It was fantastic… it had a very sweet taste, you could taste oak and it had a very strong tobacco smell. And there were very small bubbles.”
Well, if you guessed (B) then you are right! I personally hate it when the oak doesn’t integrate after 220 years though.
In shades of Rodenstockian abundance, a Reuters story says that the diver does not yet know the number of bottles in the cache. The same story quotes Champagne expert Richard Juhlin saying that he thinks it is late-18th century, from the Clicquot house, and valued at about $68,000 a bottle.
Related: “Cristal at 20,000 leagues under the sea“
How far would you drive to taste some vintage port? That’s most often a rhetorical question but I actually confronted it head on last week as a rare vertical tasting including some legendary wines came on the agenda in Montreal. Since I tucked away some 2003 Fonseca from one son’s birth year, I thought this would at the very least offer a something of a preview of how it will taste when we drink it together in 2024 and beyond. So I hopped in the car. Read more…
After three years of very rapid growth — placing it among the top 15 fastest growing private companies in the SF Bay area from 2006 to 2008, Vinfolio experienced a much more difficult sales environment during 2009. A few weeks ago, we found ourselves in need of additional capital on a very near-term basis. The company investigated several options but new capital could not be obtained on a necessarily compressed timetable. Because of the situation, and to safeguard the interests of our customers and creditors (including for wine purchases, wine sales, and wine stored with Vinfolio), the board of directors and the shareholders of Vinfolio approved and undertook a form of restructuring known as an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors (the “Assignment”) on Friday evening, January 15, to provide the business with the flexibility to develop the appropriate course of action going forward.
The San Francisco-based company had just raised $4.5 million in September, they said to fund an expansion in Asia. According to the same article, the company, founded in 2003, had raised $6.1 million in previous rounds of financing (both debt and equity).
The company sources fine wine from collectors, wineries and has an importer’s license. Their other offerings include VinCellar, a system for wine inventory management, both on computers and as an iPhone app. The company also has 17,000 square feet of temperature-controlled storage for customers. Last July, the company launched VinFolio Marketplace, an online marketplace where not only wineries and importers could list wines for sale, but individual collectors could sell wines from their collection to one another. When launched, the company proclaimed that it enabled “access to the $500+ million in wine” making it the “world’s largest fine wine marketplace.” At the time of launch, in any given Marketplace transaction, the seller incurred a fee but the buyer did not.
In his post, Bachmann said that operations will continue during Assignment, a state-level insolvency measure. But in the eBob forum, several commenters on eBob debated whether collectors with wine in storage should arrange for immediate pick-up of their wines.
You just brought home a mixed case of wine from the store. Already, things are looking good. But what if you could scan each bottle as you unpack it and have the information appear in a database for managing your inventory? Or just for keeping all your tasting notes handy and organized?
To find out if it’s time for wine lovers to belly up to the barcode, I tested two newish products that claim to zap and upload: the IntelliScanner mini and the new version of Cor.kz, an iPhone app. Read more…
William I. Koch, the billionaire wine collector at the heart of the story The Billionaire’s Vinegar (buy on amazon), has taken yet more legal action in the world of fine wine. In an extensive complaint lodged in Los Angeles court last week, Koch makes some significant allegations. The complaint is available here as pdf and it makes for great reading. In the name of fairness and balance, these are simply allegations and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Whether or not you are into the fine and collectible wine market, these are fascinating developments as the cast of characters expands beyond those in The Billionaire’s Vinegar.
Koch alleges that five bottles he purchased through Acker Merrall & Condit were fake. The bottles were: 1947 Château Pétrus, a bottle of 1945 Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vielles Vignes, 1949 Lafleur, and two bottles of 1934 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Koch paid Acker $77,925 for the five bottles, purchased through private sales and auctions. He now claims they all came from Kurianwan but that source was not stated at the time of purchase.
Koch maintains that Kurniawan was the source of two Acker auctions in 2006 hailed only as from “THE cellar.” The two auctions grossed over $35 million. The complaint points to this LA Times profile of Kurniawan, which describes his preferred wardrobe is jeans and gray tshrits but that he has a Bentely and a Ferrari. The article also says that he got into wine only in the year 2000 but had already amassed a cellar of 50,000 bottles and that, “Since he started buying, prices for rare wine have skyrocketed.”
In reference to the two 2006 auctions, the filing says, “Buying and selling the same wine at the same time could also be an effort to manipulate wine prices, a scheme to pump up the price and then dump wine into the inflated market.”
Koch’s filing also states that Kurniawan owed Acker and Acker clients $10.4 million as of a November 2008 court proceeding. Acker accepted fine art and wine as collateral. Emigrant Bank also lent Kurniawan $3 million, according to the filing, and sued Kurniawan to get it back.
The filing also elaborates on sales of magnums of 1982 Le Pin and 122 bottles of red Burgundy from Domaine Ponsot. However, both sets of wines were withdrawn after winery principals raised doubts about the authenticity of the wines. Jancis Robinson has since called Laurent Ponsot “Burgundy’s Sherlock Holmes.” But where Kruniawan got those bottles remains unknown.
And to think that the movie rights for The Bilionaire’s Vinegar have already been sold! Looks like they’d better get working on the sequel already…
The Swiss water purification company, Katadyn, has a wine-like product for non-discriminating, thirsty trekkers. They market a red wine powder that hikers can take on the trail, add some of their purified water, and voila, wine! Only they won’t call the 8% alcohol drink “wine,” mostly because the association of Chianti producers has complained. Katadyn’s defense: “We are well aware that we’re not even permitted to call the product wine. No grapes were used in its production, it’s simply a product that is flavored to taste like wine.” Coming next year: powdered beer. [Der Spiegel]
SPIT: family relations
Gary Heck of Korbel has sued his daughter, Richie Ann Samii, for defamation in postings on Craigslist. She denies the allegations in the Sonoma Press Democrat. The two are also involved in legal maneuverings over a multimillion dollar stake in the company.
Why do the empty wine bottles that fetch the highest prices on eBay correlate with those that are the most expensive and presumably authentic when full? An academic study (in progress) suggests counterfeiting. [Freakonomics]
Researchers at the University of Bourgogne in Dijon have developed a way to track the barrels used for aging a wine: using a mass spectrometer. Each forest has an identifiable fingerprint for its lumber and that can be traced for 10 years after leaving the barrel. The researchers suggest that it could prevent fraud in wine, passing off a less expensive wine as a pricey one. But perhaps its best use might be to track whether the barrels came from the same pricey forest they claim to be from–or a low cost competitor. [New Scientist]
SIPPED: Wine paraphernalia on display
The Art Institute of Chicago has a two-month exhibit called “A Case for Wine: From King Tut to Today.” They describe the exhibit as the first of its kind at “tracing this beloved libation’s surprisingly significant role as a stimulus and source of artistic endeavor.”
SIPPED: red wine in the Tour
And if you were third overall in the Tour de France, what would you imbibe the evening before the rest day? Check out Lance Armstrong’s tweet for his answer: “Made it to Limoges…Gonna have dinner, drink a glass of red wine, talk to my kids, and crash out!!” Hopefully it was the real deal and not the powdered “wine.”
SPIT: Bordeaux futures
In recent years, Bordeaux futures ran up to tremendous highs (see above chart above for three top chateaus ex-cellars; compiled from data from The Times of London). Now, they may be poised to fall back to 2002 prices, which is what British buyers told the Times they were willing to pay. A Bordeaux insider told me recently that the first growths really should not cross the €100 threshold. But he admitted that they probably will after they hear nice things about their wines at the en primeurs tastings in early April.
SIPPED: Bordeaux past
In a blast from what seems a distant past, a new investment fund for wine is opens this month with allegedly 15 to 20 million pounds of assets. Investors will need to meet the 500,000 pound minimum for the closed-end fund. Send checks to Richmond Park partners Steven Berger and Pascal Maeter who will manage the Lunzer Wine Investments Institutional Fund. [Bloomberg]
SIPPED: industrial waste over Givry
The Burgundy village of Givry has to contend with plans for a new industrial waste treatment plant on the outskirts of town. Last year’s mayoral campaign was fought largely around this issue with an anti-plant activist winning town hall. But the regional authorities later approved the plant, winemakers sued, and now a tribunal has suspended the approval. Score one for the winemakers! Check out the story at washingtonpost.com.
SPIT: excise tax
California’s legislature approved a new budget without increasing the excise tax on wine.
SIPPED and SPIT: wine blogs
The wine blog award winners have been announced. Alas, this blog is not among them. But thank you for your clicks of support! And hearty congratulations to the winners! [Fermentation]
A “Master of Coffee” (not Mister Coffee) in England has insured his tongue for £10 million ($13.95 million) via Lloyd’s of London (not to be confused with the newly nationalized Lloyds Banking Group, ahem). Take that Robert Parker–his policy is 14 times bigger than your policy! [BBC via sdelong]