Gathering the GrapesBy: Roberto Viernes
BY ROBERTO VIERNES, MASTER SOMMELIER
“IT’S A DISEASE. You can never have enough.” That’s what one of the largest wine collectors in Hawai’i says about collecting wine. He speaks of an unquenchable desire to own the greatest wines in the world. With thousands of bottles in his collection, he is still searching for more. What drives someone to amass such an amount of wine?
There are many different reasons collectors give in to collecting wine; allow me to break them down into stereotypes. There is the “Overachiever,” who has more wine than they would be able to drink over the course of a lifetime (some might call them hoarders). When they find wines that they like at a reasonable price or even wines that are exceedingly rare, they spend. The “Ager” buys what he thinks will age well according to his/her palate, often buying cases at a time in order to wait out the wine’s maturity. The “Amateur” collector is a person who stores wine by default. They end up buying more wine than they drink on a daily basis, and need a place to store their wines, but not necessarily for long aging. These are often those who love to entertain at home. The “Aspiring” is someone that wants to one day have a big collection, but doesn’t have enough room or resources. They are still quite green in the hobby, but will purchase the best wines of the world that he/she can afford. Finally, there is the “Investor” type that enjoys wine, but buys solely to see its value increase over time. I will add that none of these reasons are exclusive-many collect for a multitude of reasons.
Yet all collectors share common elements. The first, of course, is resources (read: money). The best wines will always command a good deal of money. And there is only a finite amount of each vintage. So if you want it, you will need to pay up.
All collecting spawns from a genuine love for wine. Whether this came from an early introduction or more recent, each collector has had a seminal moment when wine spoke to more than their taste buds. It made them want to pursue and invest time, money and space to it.
Proper cellar storage is an absolute must. This means a lightless, vibrationless space with constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity, where the bottles can lie on their sides in slumber. A cellar doesn’t always have the gorgeous display with racks filled with trophy wines-that’s more of an exception, really-especially in Hawai’i where underground storing can be 20 degrees warmer than 55 degrees and the humidity is 100% and salty, a potentially nightmarish formula for wine storage. Hence most collectors here will store their wines off-site at professional storage facilities where they pay for space or by the case. Depending on the size of the collection some have the stand-alone cellar that allows them to keep some or all of their collections within arms reach, built into cabinets or what have you. (Note that this can be bad for those with low self-control.) However the convenience of fine, drinkable wine at easy disposal is great for those who entertain on a whim.
So what do collectors buy? Many begin with only what they know but evolve to what fellow collectors are clamoring about as well. There are the “blue chips” of the wine world, most come from Europe. The “Big Eight Bordeaux” includes the first growths Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion and Latour as well as Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Ausone from the Right Bank and Chateau d’Yquem. If the collector’s love is Bordeaux they would go even further into the “classified growths.” In Burgundy, Grand Cru reigns supreme with producers such as DRC, Rousseau, Coche Dury, Comte Lafon, Leroy, Ramonet, Raveneau, Ponsot, Dujac and Vogue. Cult Cabernets with names like Harlan Estate, Colgin, Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle lead the pack. Tete de Cuvee from top Champagne houses like Krug, Cristal, Dom Perignon, Salon and Selosse command great prices as do the best of Italy with the likes of Antinori, Gaja, Moscarello, Giacosa, Conterno, Dal Forno, Quintarelli. Hill of Grace, Penfolds Grange and Velvet Glove, just to name a few, come from the Southern Hemisphere. The list goes on. The brightest stars in every region of the world can be found in the most well rounded collections and the more rare the better.
Not only do we eye great producers but the greatest vintages. While vintage is important when buying for enjoyment, it is essential when collecting; something that makes for a truly outstanding collection. Since the value of a wine can exponentially increase in great vintages, it’s imperative that you know which of these stand to do well over time. The greatest collectors always include large format bottles in their collections, too. Magnums, Jeroboams and larger are always more rare and come at a huge premium.
Where do these wines come from? Ideally they come direct from the producer, but in most cases the wines are purchased upon release from retailers around the world. Often collectors will also scan the auction market to enhance their holdings. This is a little more unreliable as the provenance of the wines may not always be guaranteed. But if you have faith in your fellow human, you can pretty much get anything your heart desires.
There is no minimum to be called “a collector.” Only you know if you are one or not. For me, the most impressive thing about most collectors isn’t the size of their cellars; it is their very generous nature to share their prizes. It is with these wine lovers that I have had the opportunity to drink the world’s greatest wines.