Woman winemaker discuss, planning and tasting wine to expand the business. Professional or expert drinking a glass while discussing wine collecting.

10 Things Every Wine Collector Should Know

Leah Jorgensen Jean

The world of wine can be confusing to navigate. 

Collecting wine had long been limited to a certain audience considering and acquiring a certain type of wine label. While that narrative in wine collecting is still very much the cornerstone of appraising and acquiring highly sought after labels offered to a very exclusive and limited customer base, driven by inflated value and hefty prices, the world of wine collecting has also evolved to a broader and more meaningful platform. 

The most important thing to know about building your wine collection is that you don’t have to be a millionaire to collect valuable bottles of wine, and valuable bottles of wine do not have to equate to unapproachable price points. The bottom line is this – well made, small lots of wine with any kind of following will intrinsically have a certain value to that audience; meaning, when those rare bottles become even more scarce, the value will significantly increase based on the demand from a small group of dedicated fans willing to shell out a little extra for those limited bottles.  

For example, a cult winemaker’s 100 case production of old vine Syrah from the Applegate Valley in Oregon that retailed at $45 has been sold out for months, with a handful of cases in the vintner’s library collection. Several wine club members covet this wine and happily drank through their allocations. Now, they are searching all over the internet for at least 3-4 bottles of this amazing, under-the-radar wine. The vintner is offering it now for $150 a bottle because there are literally only about 36 bottles left in her library collection. Those bottles that are being offered for sale – maybe 24 of them – have been quickly gobbled up. The customers don’t even blink at the price increase because it’s difficult – if not impossible – to find that wine anywhere else. Therein lies the point of scarcity increases the value of the wine.  

This is a far different opportunity than say someone waiting on the phone with Christie’s Auction House to purchase a rare case of 1945 Château Latour.

So, no matter where your interest lies in building your own cellar of beloved wines, here are ten things every wine collector should know when spending money and potentially investing in wine.

  1. Scarcity drives collectibility.  
    So how does one value a wine as collectible?  Look for smaller batches, handcrafted, and well-made wine.  I can’t over-emphasize “well-made wine” enough. Avoid gimmicky wine – although even some gimmicks have a following that will place a longer-term value on those wines.  Scores are not as important as desirability.  Does this wine get recognized by mainstream media (not just social media “influencers” showing off their assets more than the wine’s assets)?  Does this wine have a “cult” following?  A cult following means the wine producer has a small but very passionate and serious fanbase.  Are these bottles hard to find outside of a few markets/regions?  Consider what you value versus what the market values.  How do you value a wine versus how does the market value a wine?  Understand scarcity and rarity as it makes a wine more coveted.  A wine doesn’t have to be impossible to find or to acquire in order to be collectible.  But if the brand happens to have a cult following and die hard fans – those wines will always be worth something to someone!

    So what are the best ways to acquire cult status wines? Get on mailing lists of your favorite smaller producers, visit them and schedule an appointment to taste with the winemaker, join their wine clubs and get to know their library and special, rare wine bottle offerings. Then get on the mailing lists of trust-worthy small wine retailers known for getting access to rare, hard to come by wines.

    Keep in mind – there are so many indie producers popping up on the regular aiming to be the next “cool” thing. Only a fraction will actually produce well-made, age-able and highly collectible wine. While taste is subjective, it only takes a few vintages to access if a winemaker/brand is making wines to drink quickly or to collect.
  2. Making smarter wine purchases will ultimately save you from disappointment and financial loss.
    Many customers and wine club members tell me they are buying wine faster than they can drink it.  And, I couldn’t help but wonder – what is taking up real estate in their cellars that they can’t drink fast enough?  Where is the problem? For one, most wines only have a shelf life of about 5 years.  If you get stuck with wine stored at your home (or wherever you store your wine) that won’t evolve and will leave you disappointed – then you haven’t spent your money wisely.  I challenge people to think more mindfully about their wine purchases, to be more financially conscious.  How you spend your money on wine should be personally evaluated (I have a downloadable PDF worksheet on this available as a handout for my Masterclass on Cabernet Franc and Collecting Wine). 

    Just know that building your reserves with wines that won’t evolve is a recipe for disaster.  So, if you love your wine, and you buy a lot of wine, you have to ask yourself – am I spending my money wisely?  You can learn a lot – and make your own opinions based on your tastes and experiences – but do the research, get to know the spending trends, and learn more about what makes a wine collectible, and how to look at your purchases as potential investments.

    It is wise to start collecting with smart, mindful wine purchases with wines that will evolve and age well, first by getting to know your favorite producers and then learning if their wines are intentionally made to age for a long time.  You should manage your wine purchases by dividing your wines into two categories: wines that must be consumed within 5 years of release date and wines that were made to age for over ten years. You can find out which category a wine falls into by doing your own research online or asking a trustworthy wine steward. But sometimes the wine stewards even get it wrong and will make an aging guesstimate sometimes based on very limited knowledge about a producer. There are so many wines – so, they still offer a professional opinion worth taking. Sometimes a wine’s age-ability, or lack-thereof, is obvious. That inexpensive bottle you picked up at the grocery story is most likely in the under 5 year category, with some exceptions, of course. Once you separate your wines and organize them, continue drinking the wine that won’t age as well and confidently hold on to the wines that will evolve and be sure to store them properly. 

    Winemaking actually has a lot to do with how well a wine will age – from the chosen pick date (berry chemistry), to fermentation management, to the use of sulphur, wine clarification and stabilization, managing pH, and specifics of barrel regime. In general, if you ask a winemaker what they do to preserve a wine’s ability to age and they give you a blank stare (or pause on the phone), assume you should put those wines in a five year maximum window.

    Keep it simple. As a general rule, most wines will not age well, no matter how properly stored. Assume you need to drink your wine bottle purchases within five years – unless the winemaker is intentionally making wines meant for aging.
  3. Get to know how well certain wine grape varietals age.
    Part of making smarter wine purchases means getting to know how well certain wine grape varietals age. Even though certain wine varietals will age better than others, it’s important to have a general understanding that acidity and tannin structure are key factors to a wine’s ability to age, along with understanding the intention behind the winemaker’s winemaking processing and style. Consider just because Pinot Noir has the potential to age well, that doesn’t mean every Pinot Noir producer is preserving the integrity of the grape’s ability to age. If you’re not sure what red or white wine varietals will age well, I have a downloadable PDF document on the top white and red grape varietals for aging available as a handout for my Masterclass. You can use it as a guide for when you make purchases from your favorite producers and wine regions, and then you can further your investigation by asking the producer or a trustworthy wine retailer if a wine was made to drink immediately or to hold. 
  4. Know your wine’s provenance.
    This goes without saying. But, if you are collecting rare bottles of wine, it’s important to know the journey that bottle has taken to get into your hands. When it comes to purchasing wine, provenance is one of the most important things you need to know. This includes the bottle of wine’s history, where it’s sourced from and how it’s been stored. Provenance guarantees the source of the wine and that it is genuine, but it also lets you know how well that bottle has been kept. Provenance upholds a wine’s authenticity. Wine specialists will check a few things to determine a wine’s provenance, including proof of ownership and cork condition/label damage/wine integrity as a result of storage conditions. If you want to dig deeper into understanding a bottle’s provenance, visit vinovest.com.
  5. Track your wine’s worth.
    This is a nuanced practice. For more well-known producers, a bottle’s worth can be more easily tracked. You can use apps like Vivino, Wine-Searcher, CellarTracker, Decanter Premium, or you can source a professional wine valuation service like Vineut. For smaller producers, you can contact the winemaker or winery because they are the ones typically setting the price. Personally, as a small producer, I am updating my personal library wine worksheet to update my collectors on the price of my wines based on vintage and scarcity. This is important if you are turning your wine collecting into an investment opportunity, meaning you are keeping track of the overall value of your wine collection and/or you might potential sell. There are a number of ways to sell your valuable bottles of wine – we cover that on this list. 
  6. Know why you are collecting wine and set goals.
    Are you looking to drink special wines on special occasions? Or are you hoping to build a wine investment portfolio? Know your reason for collecting. It will guide you in your wine bottle purchases, appreciation and potential investment. It will enrich the experience for you. You can start out with modest goals and evolve into a serious collector and investor. I have a few worksheets on setting your goals as part of my downloadable PDF document – again, available as a handout for my Masterclass.
  7. Know the basics of wine investment.
    Even if you don’t think you want to invest in wine, maybe you are already well on your way? Wine is considered a stable investment – so if you already love wine, you might as well learn a little more about making better picks, selections that will last over time and increase in value in your possession. Wine has a proven track record. Wine is uncorrelated to the market, so in times of market turmoil, such as the 2008 crisis or the coronavirus pandemic, investments in fine wine are fairly insensitive to macro economics.   Wine is a tangible asset with an intrinsic value that makes it suitable for preserving wealth as a medium to long-term investment. Wine has an increasing demand, and due to globalization and new emerging economies, people are drinking more fine wine than ever before, and that, combined with reduced supply, makes wine prices go up. Production methods, weather conditions and geographic constraints also influence quantities, contributing to the scarcity of fine wine – so high demand plus low supply produce instant value. And – best part – you own your asset. Wine is something people can access, and if you do it properly you will make money. 
  8. Find the wine investment resources best for you.
    Casual collectors who turn their collections into wine investment can start doing this on their own. Eventually, it’s wise to find resources to build the portfolio. There are a lot of tools out there for beginning wine collectors. It’s important to first identify your goals (as stated above). Depending on your goals, you can start collecting with smart, mindful wine purchases with wines meant to age, keep your collection at home – stored properly – and keep doing your own research and follow the trends. If you don’t have time to do that, you can start a portfolio with a professional service – like Vinovest – and watch that portfolio grow. 

    There are wine companies out there that are in the business of collecting and selling fine and rare wines – these will often have provenance vetted. Get friendly with a reputable local wine merchant who has access to rare bottles. Get to know the vetted wine merchants online, outside of your community, that collect and sell fine and rare wines – it might take awhile to get on their mailing list, but be persistent and become a loyal customer first. Continue to learn how wine works as an investment, while having your clear collecting/investment goals set, and start enjoying your lucrative side investment. Remember, wine is considered a very stable investment. If you already love wine, if you’re already collecting, you might as well learn a little more about making better picks – selections that will last over time and increase in value in your possession. Simple research will arm you with the best tools for your goals. Start with reviewing wine collectors apps. Investigate wine investment brokerages like Vinovest and Cult Wines Investment.

    A wine investment brokerage might seem unapproachable, but consider this: Vinovest offers four investment plans for their clients:

    • Standard Tier – $1,000 to $9,999
    • Plus Tier – $10,000 to $49,999
    • Premium Tier – $50,000 to $249,999
    • Grand Cru Tier – $250,000+

    When you upgrade your plan, you gain access to numerous perks and new offerings, as well as lower management fees. At Vinovest, their investors own their bottles outright. They can sell their bottles whenever they like. In the meantime, Vinovest takes care of storing, securing, authenticating, and insuring the wine to keep its price on an upward trajectory. Plus, Vinovest has an extensive network of wine traders and merchants worldwide. Using this network, they can sell your wine in 2 to 3 weeks.

    Vinovest is just one example of a wine investment brokerage. You can do your own research to decide if a brokerage firm is right for you, or if you wish to stay the course on your own. Either way, the more you understand how wine investment works, the more you will earn in the long run. In general, a combination of managing your own collection at home along with an investment portfolio is an effective and enjoyable way to make the most of a wine collection and investment. You can choose to sell, continue to store, or open up that bottle!
  9. Come up with a storage plan if you don’t have a proper wine cellar.
    Keep in mind a wine is only worth how well it’s stored. Learn about proper wine storage here. If you don’t have space in your home for proper wine storage for collectible wines, consider any of the following, immediately. Purchase a wine refrigerator for your smaller collection. Do your research and find the one that best fits in your home. If you have a cool underground basement that is dark and stays within proper wine cellar temperatures, be sure to invest in good racks or other wine storage shelving to protect your investment – keeping the wine off the ground where flooding might happen. If you have the means to build a proper wine cellar indoors, find the right location (under the steps, in a closet, in an empty room), and hire the right wine storage builders to come in and turn that space into a safe place to store your wine. Another option is to look into offsite wine storage facilities. We have plenty of them in the Portland area, here in Oregon. Again, know what you want and do your research. Do you want a single closet space area to store your wine collection? Or, do you want space with a community area where you can socialize with other tenants and share or trade wine with? It’s important to invest in the right storage to maintain the wine’s provenance.
  10. How to sell your wine.
    You have your wine properly stored, you know the provenance, and you know each bottle’s worth. After doing some research, you are ready to sell a few bottles. So, how? There are many ways to sell your wine, including contacting large or small auction houses (in-person or online), online wine marketplaces, hotel or restaurant groups, and retail wine shops. Much of this depends on the wine you’re selling. If you have a cult wine with a small but dedicated following, consider contacting the producer first. Let them know you have a special, rare bottle that you would like to sell. They might help by reaching out to their mailing list or wine club members. If not, try the online marketplaces. For more widely collected wines, still rare and special, and sometimes more coveted by serious wine collectors and aficionados, you might find more success reaching out to large or small auction houses (again, depending on the wine), luxury hotel or restaurant groups, or fine wine merchants who specialize in collecting and selling rare bottles. If you are investing with a brokerage firm like Vinovest, they’ll take care of the sale for you – it’s easy and moves quickly.  

    Finally, I recommend finding a fine wine collector mentor – a benefit of storing your wine at a facility with a built-in community of investors. Perhaps your mentor is a fine wine merchant. Find someone you admire, like and respect and build a relationship. Don’t be annoying – but respect this person’s time and expertise. If it’s a merchant, be a good, loyal, respectful customer. Show interest and genuine appreciation. Make it the start of a beautiful mutually beneficial relationship. Be a star pupil and you will grow in more ways than one!

About the author: Leah Jorgensen Jean is a wine industry veteran and thought leader with over twenty years experience. She has worked in a sales and marketing capacity as a boutique wine shop manager, a leading sales person in distribution, and a director of sales, marketing and communication with pioneering wine brands in the Pacific Northwest including Erath Vineyards, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (working with luxury brands including Col Solare, Antinori, Spring Valley Vineyard and Northstar, as well as transitioning Erath Vineyards post Dick Erath’s sale) and Adelsheim Vineyard. She left the office to head for the cellar in 2009 and starting working in Oregon wine production – first at Anne Amie Vineyards, followed by Shea Wine Cellars, where she assisted in wine production from harvest through bottling, and then worked a final season at Alloro Vineyard while finishing up her winemaking studies at the Northwest Viticulture Center. While Leah was studying winemaking/enology, she ran a consulting business supporting the marketing efforts of local wineries including R. Stuart & Co., Le Cadeau, WillaKenzie Estate. At the same time, Leah was a contributing writer for Oregon Wine Press, Wine Press Northwest, Northwest Woman Magazine, theantitourist.com and The Wine Country Guidebook. Leah founded Leah Jorgensen Cellars in 2011 as the Pacific Northwest’s Premier Cabernet Franc producer, the only Oregon winemaker dedicated to Cabernet Franc, and was named to San Francisco Chronicle’s “Winemakers to Watch” (2015), Wine Enthusiast’s “Oregon’s Cutting Edge Winemakers” (2018), Food & Wine’s “Top 15 Women Winemakers in the World” (2018), among other “top wine” lists and content for Oregon Wine Press, Portland Monthly, 1859 Oregon, Sip, Sunset, and Forbes. She is a tenth generation winemaker on her maternal side (former Marchese Stravino, Campania, Italy).