Manuel Hevia is CEO of Vinoselección: the oldest wine club of Spain or, in Christian, the most veteran distance selling platform.
Hevia started working at the company that she now runs 29 years ago, in the golden age of sale by catalog. Purchases came by post or telephone, at a time when per capita wine consumption in Spain was double that of today: 40 liters a year compared to the 20 that are drunk today.
“It is the great theme of all wine sellers,” acknowledges Hevia. “You face a situation where wine consumption decreases. One of the things that happens is that there has been a substitution of types of wine, with a progressive preponderance of quality wines. But in any case there has been a decline. That is the fundamental fact ”.
But, while historically wine-producing countries consume less and less, this has come as aspirational product to the large emerging economies, which has led to the emergence of a luxury wine market – until a few decades ago limited almost exclusively to the United Kingdom and the United States – in which a lot of money can be made.
He came as a trophy
“We were in 2012 in China on a prospecting trip and one of the things that I found is that they were all the greats wine merchants British, ”he explains. “The lifelong British selling great French wines. That worked incredibly well, but with paradoxical issues. One of the things being said is that most of the Château Lafite bottles that had been sold weren’t open, some were on top of chimneys, as decoration. They were considered icons. People did not drink them, they kept them without knowing why ”.
Few people buy great wines with the intention of drinking them
Many of these wines are not even bought as an investment, with the intention of selling them more expensive in a future time, but rather as pure show of power. “At a given moment when a society prospers, and there begin to be significant levels of wealth, wine becomes an iconic element, and it allows you to be part of something that very few people are part of. This generates an increase in the price of those icons ”.
In fact, also in Europe, few people buy these great wines – some of which sell for hundreds and even thousands of euros a bottle – with the intention to drink them. Or not just because of it.
“We have a world where it is a fact that there is a trend towards economic inequality, therefore there are quite abundant groups of people with a lot of purchasing power,” explains Hevia. “Some buy them to consume, but not to consume itself, if not for an event, a celebration, a special moment … It is an iconic item which can be similar to the passion for three Michelin stars or luxury hotels. If you have succeeded, sometimes they want to show it, and one way to show it is with those wines ”.
“Very few people can appreciate the complexity of these wines”
In reality, many of these wines, when they are old – which is when they fetch the highest prices at auctions – are not at their best. It may even be that, no matter how well they have been saved, most people may not like them.
“I think that the ability to understand a wine of these characteristics is very limited”, explains the director of Vinoselección. “It is more limited than the wealth of the world. Very few people can appreciate the complexity of these wines ”.
Tips for investing in wine
The great wines of the world are bought and sold for image or reputation. Its market has little to do with the wine itself.
Last October a robbery was committed at the Atrio winery, the two Michelin star restaurant in Cáceres that claims to have one of the best wineries in Europe. The thieves took 45 bottles, with a market price that could even reach one million euros.
It is a drama for its owners, but the most probable thing, explains Hevia, is that those bottles were never going to be sold: “We all know that Atrio has had one of the best restaurant wineries in Spain for many years, and it is something that has always accompanied. Even the whole problem of theft once again reinforces that brand in some way, and that passion that differentiates them from the rest. Regardless of the sentimental element, ends up being a reinforcement of the Atrio brand, it has been an advertising campaign. They would have preferred that they hadn’t stolen them, without a doubt, but deep down they are part of that culture, that mythology of wine ”.
As the expert explains, apart from the super-rich who buy these wines as a demonstration of power, especially in Asia, there are two profiles among those who buy the bottles from the best wineries:
The first is that of the wine lover who buys good vintages from big brands that will improve for a time –no more than ten years in most cases– with the aim of drink these wines paying a lower price of which you have to pay years later.
The second is that of those who simply seek make business.
“If you want to invest to earn money, you have to know the crops well, you have to know the brands, the market, and make sure you have a secondary market where you can do it ”, Hevia explains. And this is the main problem: aside from the need to keep the wine in good condition, it is not always easy to find someone who wants to buy it.
“If you are investing, make sure that the day you want to sell you know how to do it, that you do not have the problem of having something that is supposedly worth a lot but you do not know where to sell it,” explains the expert. “You are not going to sell it on Wallapop. If you want to sell your Vega Sicilia or your Ygais, as such, there is no easy secondary market for you to sell that product ”.
In the United Kingdom, where all the players in the luxury wine market are concentrated, although they later operate in Asia, there are companies that are dedicated to storing the wine in the best conditions and managing the sale. They even have investment funds, in which you can put money without knowing anything about wines. But having these companies the return is, logically, much lower.
Who sets the price?
A separate issue is having a wine from a little-known winery that ends up becoming famous, but this is a process that takes decades. There are very few wines from which you can really make money in the buying and selling market.
“The price of things is set by people, and one of the essential conditions is scarcity,” explains Hevia. “If you have a wine of which you produce 5,000 bottles, at a certain moment you get 99 Parker points and you get to have a worldwide distribution, that wine it can be worth a lot ”.
Prescribers such as Parker, Wine Spectator or, at the Spanish level, the Peñín Guide, have a great influence. But, regardless of how transparent these actors are, reaching the top of these guides is hard work.
Take as an example the path traveled by Ygay Castle, the Rioja wine that was chosen as the best of last year by Wine Spectator. In 2011, the price of the Ygay Castle from the 2001 vintage was around 36 euros. In 2015, the 2005 vintage was around 60 euros. The bottles of the last vintage on the market, the award-winning one, were sold out at a sale price of 185 euros.
The price of these wines has little to do with their real cost
“Castillo Ygay for me represents something that the world of Spanish wine suffers from,” explains Hevia. “In France you can find wineries that make very high-priced and high-production wines. Wines from which many bottles are made. In Spain this had only been achieved by Vega Sicilia, but there are many wineries with potential to do this”.
Now, it goes without saying that the price of these wines has little to do with their real cost of production, not even with their quality, reaching a point where we always talk about excellent wines.
To place a brand in the league of the great wines of the world, explains Hevia, it is not enough to have a good product: “This goes hand in hand with the work that the winery has done in the last 25 years to strengthen itself in all attributes. From its architecture, investment in its structure, in terms of its internationalization, with a worldwide distribution, in which you make sure that it is present where it has to be present, in stores and restaurants in the main markets. This is what in the end ends up driving a wine. It helps to be the wine of the year in Wine Spectator, but if the winery had not done everything it has done in the last 25 years, which has been observed by the entire sector, it would not have achieved that award regardless of the liquid that goes inside ” .
Better wine by the glass
Beyond the luxury market, there are many very enjoyable wines for which you don’t have to spend so much money. “Wine has to have a minimum price because it has minimum costs,” explains Hevia. “There are no miracles. You cannot get a good wine for less than 12 or 13 euros, because wines have to have a series of elements to do things well. But yes, a 15 euro wine can give you great pleasure. I’m a big fan of those experiences and it’s a bit of what we do ”.
And if one day you spend more money on a great wine – “some of those wines are extraordinary, unforgettable, exciting,” insists Hevia – all the better. try to enjoy it on time. Regardless of whether the objective of its owners was to accumulate wine to drink or to sell, the stories of great wineries of individuals spoiled are told by the hundreds.
“The stories of people who were putting wines in a cellar and found that they were not in good condition is very typical,” confirms Hevia. “It has happened to a lot of people. I personally believe that the best thing with wine is that you consume it, do not keep it too much. And drink the best wines as soon as possible, because they are experiences that you will always keep in your head and you will save yourself from having someone come one day and steal you. Many years ago I had painters at home and I had the best wines in one area and they disappeared. Since then I have had that philosophy: those great wines must be drunk soon and kept in your memory and if they come to steal you, let them take the cheap ones ”.
Images | Shoteby´s / Atrio / iStock
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