A couple months back I began reading up on the legendary cellar of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yes, the same Andrew Lloyd Webber (A.L.W.) that wrote Cats, Phantom of the Opera (a personal favorite), Evita and countless other plays is one of the most significant collectors of French wine in the world. During this time there have been many articles telling of the background of his passion for wine and how the Chinese cannot wait for the Sotheby’s auction that will parcel off of a portion of his collection. I’ve found all of these articles to be quite interesting; however there was one thing said in a Wall Street Journal interview that put me off.
You see, there are many collectors out there who have this overly romanticized vision of wine. They collect it in droves, sharing some, enjoying others, and yet holding back even more for the right moment. But what is that moment? For many, it’s that point when they realize that what they are sitting on is too large of a collection, and simply put, a treasure. They usually realize this when Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Zachys or any of the other numerous auction have tirelessly pursued them to sell the lot, pocketing a handsome reward for their “passion”.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this practice, in fact the amount of hoarding that is done by wine collectors only benefits generations down the road. Without their need to have a massive collection containing many extremely rare bottles, the world would be without them forever. My issue comes when you have collectors that look at wine as an investment as “cuckoo” as A.L.W. so gracefully put it. He went on to say, “to think of something that is essentially a living thing purely as an investment commodity is, to somebody that is a wine lover such as myself, a complete anathema. Even when I was buying the 2000 vintage nobody could have foreseen how fantastically expensive wine has become.”
The amount of pretension in this statement is almost insulting, as if he’s above being considered an investor in wine. This is especially the case when it comes just a week before he completed the auction of that portion of his collection for $5.6 Million this past weekend. Considering many of these wines were purchased en primeur (futures offering prior to release) with the expectation that the value of the wines will be higher when issued, I feel that to look upon the potential of wine investing as cuckoo, is – well, cuckoo! If done correctly, wine, just like a stock or real estate, has proven to be an investment worth considering. And to add to his comment, “nobody could have foreseen how fantastically expensive wine has become” regarding the 2000 Bordeaux, plenty of people foresaw the potential of that vintage and scooped it up!
I don’t question A.L.W.’s love of wine in the slightest, it’s quite evident that he does. What I do question is his comment, and the many like it that I’ve come across in reading interviews of other collectors over the years. If the many collectors out there truly felt this way, then they’d be the ones to open their bottles of 1982 Château Pétrus or 1990 Domaine de la Romanée Conti La Tâche for their friends rather than allowing a no-name Chinese or Taiwanese millionaire bid it up. So, let’s be honest, wine is a terrific investment when you have the means and knowledge to invest properly, anyone who tells you otherwise is cuckoo!