Everyone likes to get in early on something good, especially when it’s great wine. And like other investments, wine rewards those who can recognize potential before the crowd arrives. Yet where wine is concerned, buying too early could lead to unnecessary risks. Investing in “pre-arrivals,” rather than traditional wine futures, could be a potentially profitable alternative.
Traditionally, world-renowned wines have traded in a Byzantine system cultivated in France’s Bordeaux appellation. Littered with agents, each of whom must be compensated, this OPEC-like cartel controls some 90% of an advance market in which the buyer assumes all risk by paying in full for wine that has just been made. During the subsequent two years or so—a period during which the wine is bottled, stored, shipped across an ocean, trucked, inventoried, and “cellared”—a lot can go wrong. Oxidation, inferior corkage, and heat exposure are just a few of the perils that can easily ruin wine before it reaches the purchaser.
Choosing pre-arrivals could help you avoid many of those risks, whether you’re buying for investment purposes or just to stock your own cellar. With pre-arrivals, you’re still buying early enough to get a good price, but your wait is much shorter. Any wine—whether a new release or a 20-year-old vintage that a retailer acquired from a secondary source, such as a private collector—could be sold as a pre-arrival, and pre-arrivals are generally delivered rapidly, sometimes within as little as one week, though sometimes they may take six months or longer.
According to Stephen Bachman, founder of Vinfolio (www.vinfolio.com), a wine purchasing, advisory, and storage firm in San Francisco, there are several good reasons to consider pre-arrivals. One reason is that it could be the only way to acquire some much-coveted wines. Particularly popular wines may never make it to the stores, or will be available only at very high prices. Moreover, because many wine collectors and investors tend to cellar their acquisitions, not drinking them for some time, it may matter little to them whether a wine is available immediately or after a few months.
But buying pre-arrivals also has its snafus, and it’s important to work with a knowledgeable, trustworthy retailer. Bachman suggests asking these questions:
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