Webinar:- How to Display and Conserve Fine Wine Collections
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Webinar:- How to Display and Conserve Fine Wine Collections

February 28, 2020

And good morning, good afternoon and
good evening to you, wherever you are. Thank you very much for joining us on
this ArtRatio webinar on how to display and conserve fine wine
collections. I am joined today by Stuart George, who is the Founder and Managing Director of Arden Fine Wines. Thank you for joining
us today Stuart. Thank you Manoj. Good afternoon to you and good afternoon, good
morning, good evening to all the other guests. So just a quick a couple of
introductions: Arden Fine Wines are Mayfair-based specialists in fine wines
and spirits. And for those of you who already know us, ArtRatio, we are boutique
manufacturers of smart glass vitrines for art and luxury collections.
So who is this webinar for primarily? It’s aimed of course at the fine wine
enthusiast and collector; and also retailers. We also believe it could be
useful for wineries and auction houses since they form part of the trade, just
as fine wine logistics companies. We think it could also be useful for fine
wine fund investors and also free ports and insurers since they’re also either
in the business of storing wine or dealing with wines. So let’s move
straight on to the first question for you Stuart:- What global trends have you observed in the fine wine market in, let’s say, the
last 10 years? Well the year 0 of the modern fine wine market is February
2008, when taxes were abolished in Hong Kong, and that led to the Chinese Asian
market going supernova. Subsequently that has been a huge factor in the modern
fine wine sector. Another aspect as noted on the slide here is the credit crunch
after 2008. That didn’t really affect China which was largely immune to it but
it certainly affected Europe and North America. But the Chinese market kept
things relatively buoyant. More recently, Bordeaux prices softened somewhat from the highs of a few years ago when things were really going
crazy fueled by Asian money, principally.
Burgundy is particularly sought after at the moment and it’s probably never
been more expensive than it is at the moment. Right, so on the subject of prices,
we can see here a graphic showing the growth of fine wine prices. These are
just the highest prices paid for particular bottles. We can see going back
to 1985 it was a 1787 ‘Chateau Lafite’ which fetched $156,000 and it’s been
climbing steadily; and I believe in 2018 there was a 1945 Romanée-Conti,
which sold for $558,000. So do you see the trend as being
a logical consequence of global trade for example? Well it is back to Asia
really being the two most recent price records achieved for the Lafitte and the
Romanée-Conti. They both went to Asian buyers. The 1869 Lafite was sold in Hong
Kong. The market in 2010, when that bottle was sold was really just about
at its peak then, even if it has faded somewhat since, due to the clampdown on gift-giving and so on in mainland China. The the Romanée-Conti was sold to an Asian
private client apparently but it was auctioned in New York rather in Hong
Kong which is a sort of interesting hedge or view of the market as it
now is so still plenty of money in Hong Kong and in mainland China but not as
much as it was. Fine wine merchants and auctioneers increasingly have turned
back towards New York and sometimes London too. I see a parallel there
with the art world which has suffered somewhat of a similar trend, also largely influenced by China and also suffering from the clamp down on
gifts as you just mentioned. On to the next question:- what horror
stories can you share with us in how you have seen fine wines being stored? Well
one that comes to mind was a private cellar I looked at a few years ago in
East London, belonging to a charming old widow whose husband had recently passed away, including some old vintages of Mouton
Rothschild and particularly quite a lot of old vintage port, principally the
1963 vintage. I forget which producer but there were 63’s. Anyway, I went round
to a house and was shown to the cellar such as it was, which
turned out to be a cupboard, probably about ten feet away from an oven
and therefore horribly exposed to a heat on an ongoing basis; when I opened up
some of the cases of port, some of the bottles that had just dripped away and were only half-full (or half-empty depending on your perspective) so that was a very
heartbreaking scene to see that these lovely wines had not really been looked
after terribly well unfortunately and that was very indicative of what heat
damage can do to a wine. Another example in London is another private cellar I should say which had some older vintages of Chateau Haut-Briand in London. The cellar had flooded two or three
times over the years apparently and the Haut-Briand and other things were
found floating in it at various points but the bottles funnily enough went
largely unscathed. The labels had gotten bashed about a bit and we’re largely illegible, but the corks had held firm. And there is kind of an interesting theory behind
what happens to wine when it’s in water it you know assuming a cork is liquid-tight, you know if nothing gets out then nothing will get in, but it suddenly
becomes an anaerobic aging exercise and so in theory it would slow down the
aging process of wine. Right, so talking a bit further about the corks
then, I’d imagine a lot of people who are watching this after the event; you
will already know that by, you know, the answer to why should wines
be laid flat and that of course is by laying the bottle on his side the cork
is kept wet. Would you agree with that? Yes, yes, absolutely.
And apparently this stops the flow of inbound oxygen, stopping the
oxidation of the wine. I think maybe what one other factor that people perhaps
don’t think about so much is the effect of solar light on any particular environment.
The near infrared passing through a window can heat up the temperature
inside a room and if you raise the temperature you lower the relative
humidity, so could you explain to us why cork is so sensitive to fluctuations in
temperature and humidity? Well it’s a it’s a natural product and I think a key
point actually it’s when you’re keeping a bottle lying down, it’s not just
keeping the cork moist with contact with the wine, it actually also needs to be
stored somewhere that’s really quite damp and has some humidity. I’ve
seen any number of bottles that have been lying down for a long time but they’ve
been stored in a very dry perhaps slightly warm if not hot storage environment, and the cork has dried out even though it’s been in the
wine, for presumably many years. It will crumble when you try and open it
and there’s also possibly in a risk of oxidation as well if the cork is dried
out; it can slip; you know possibly come a little bit porous so the broader humidity of a storage area is very important too. Right, so we
understand then incoming solar can raise the temperature, reduce the
humidity, dry out the cork, perhaps even pushing the cork inside the wine and
that will oxidize the wine or air can seep in as well. And you told me about a
very interesting story about the 1787 Chateau Lafite which apparently
presumably belonged to Thomas Jefferson that was sold…..Well, whether it did or not is another story which we do not have time to go into today alas. It’s a very
notorious bottle for any number of reasons but it’s the ultimate example of
what can happen if you store a wine incorrectly which is to say in a very
warm environment, exposed to strong light. The so-called ‘Jefferson Lafitte’ 1787 was
put on display in the Forbes magazine galleries in (I think) a glass cabinet, with a light. The, you know I’m not sure how long exactly it took, but it I mean
as a matter of months, I think. The cork started to dry out and had slipped
inside the bottle and well, that was the end of a particularly grand and
historic wine. It turned into vinegar. Yeah, that sounds like a crime. (Laughs) Possibly the second crime involved in that bottle, but that’s another subject. (Laughs) So we’ve kind of touched a little bit on this subject but what what factors in
general do you consider to be the most important then in not only displaying
but also storing fine wines? Yes, humidity I’ve already touched on so
that is an important factor to try and keep the cork moist even if it can
damage the labels themselves. There’s a rather perverse ideology in the fine
wine market, particularly in Asia and North America I think, less so in Europe,
where a damaged label, well firstly it’s unattractive, therefore the wine is possibly no good and it could be fraudulent. It’s actually
the other way around, you know the wine has probably been looked after perfectly
even if it doesn’t look great and the wine itself will likely drink better too,
having been stored in the nice damp cool conditions; temperature extremes well, we saw what happened with the bottles of port that I saw in East
London all those years ago and light as well not great for wine at all. Again it can really knock it about, so keep wines away from light; keep them in a dark, cool, slightly humid place, that’s ideal. Yes, that’s ideal, so talking very briefly
about the light sensitivity of wines, if you look at this graphic for a second
you’ll see on the horizontal axis the the wavelength of light so from 200
nanometers over to 800 nanometers; so from 200 to 400 approximately is ultraviolet; from 400 to 700 approximately is visible; and above 700
is where we find infrared. And the three graphs that you can see correspond to
white wine, rosé wines and red wines. On the vertical axis we have transmission
or the amount of light (or radiation) which is being transmitted by the wine
and so if that transmission is zero that means that the light is either being
reflected or absorbed and it’s when radiation is absorbed that we have a
problem and so you can see that from 200 over to approximately 380 nanometers all
of those three types of wine, white, rosé and red, are strongly absorbing. Now, at
this point white and rosé start to transmit and so they they’re becoming
less absorbing but red wine in fact continues to absorb all the way up to
approximately 630 nanometers and it’s this absorption which causes what we
understand to be called ‘light strike’, which produces the unpleasant odours and tastes, directly due to light exposure. And the the cause for this is that riboflavin (or
vitamin b2) is photoactivated at critical wavelengths of 375 nanometers
(which is in the ultraviolet) and 440 nanometers (which is in the visible) and
they are highlighted on this diagram. The photoactivation of riboflavin is
what causes the generation of hydrogen sulfide and Mercaptans. Stuart, have
you had direct experience of wines which have been ‘Light Struck’? Now, I can’t
think of any specific examples actually but I would think that it’s not uncommon
for wines that have been purchased from non-specialist retailers. It’s not
uncommon that bottles of wine, whether they are fine or not are stored on shelves, quite close
to quite strong hot lighting, and as your charts shows here it can
cause havoc. Yes, so on to the display and marketing of fine wines and this is
probably more related to the retail sector. So the other factor that we need
to consider is the glass bottle itself. So clear glass will block radiation up
to about 300 nanometers; green glass will block wavelengths up to about 320
nanometers, but it’s the amber glass which blocks radiation all the way up
to 500 nanometers. So we would think that all wine bottles should be placed in
amber glass but apparently we understand has something to do with aesthetics. Can
you explain a bit more about why we don’t see more wines in amber glass
bottles? Well I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. The sole exception I suppose would be a Louis Roederer crystal champagne which
is actually in a clear glass bottle. You know historically because it was drunk
by the Tsars of Russia and they were concerned about being poisoned so they
wanted to see exactly what was inside the bottle before it was opened. And well
it was bottled in crystal as well, hence the name. But I’m not sure when
exactly they started it but it is wrapped in amber cellophane so Roederer
clearly knows and understands actually amber is the best way of blocking out
unnecessary and unwanted light rays that could affect a wine.
But otherwise yes, I think amber glass would be something of a slight shock to
the system for a lot of consumers; you know and it sometimes is a bit
perilously close in appearance to Lucozade which some non UK viewers
is a fizzy drink, supposedly drunk by athletes do I give them energy. I drank
it a lot when I was a kid but not since, alas, I’ve grown out of it. I prefer fermented grape juice these days. There’s a certain uh you know connotation to amber that would make it I think a tough
aesthetic and commercial sell. Right, so we could almost say that we need to find,
or the industry needs to find like a balance of light, which allows you to both
protect the wine and also make the products more visually appealing. Would you agree with that? Yes, yes, absolutely. You know green / brown glass are probably the best solutions available at the moment so
give that balance of protection against light and also don’t offend the
aesthetic sensibilities of consumers. Right, right so we can talk now a little
bit more about the wine labels which you mentioned before and in the photograph
in fact you can see a Mouton Rothschild 1945 with a severely faded label. Could
you tell us a bit about that bottle? Yeah, but that is a bottle I sold earlier this
year as it states there for 12,000 pounds to a private client it’s an
example of the sort of very fine wines that I deal with. It was sourced from the
cellar of Farringdon House, which is a very large Manor in Oxford in England
and as far as anyone could tell it had been in the cellars there for 70
something years but as you can see the label was still very faded and I think
it shows that even if a bottle is kept for many decades in a dark cellar or
wherever it might be, just you know very occasional exposure to light as of when
people come in down to the cellar or switch the lights on to get bottles out, and so on. It, over a very long period it’s compounded and it can
have an effect on the label and fade it yet that’s not it’s not necessarily
evidence of it having direct or strong exposure to light at any time but it can happen over a very very long period. Yes yes, so there
we have a bit of an overlap there with the art world but well there’s a strong
emphasis on any kind of works on paper because a lot of them are
sensitive to light. Particularly the British Standards document which is
highlighted at the bottom, PAS 198, that talks about highly sorry
wood pulp papers being highly sensitive to light and also most dyes that we used
for tinting paper in the 20th century are also highly sensitive to light, so
this can have the effect of color fading, reduction in mechanical strength, embrittlement, and a number of other factors. So what can you tell us about how fading
on the label can affect for example the marketability or even the market price
of a fine wine? Is there any connection? Well I mentioned earlier but
storage in a damp cellar; it can damage the label; as you can see on this one, in
addition to the fading parts of it have fallen off and that that’s an
effect of having been in a cool dark cellar for a very long time. It does
affect the price, alas, and negatively. You know it was still the perception that
labels need to be you know clean and pristine for a wine to fetch the highest
possible price that the market will stand, whereas again, I can’t
emphasize enough how you know incorrect that is, in terms of how it adversely
affects a wine. You know, a faded damp stained label like this is indicative of
something that’s been stored in perfect conditions for fine wine, as opposed to
something that is perhaps you know a bit too dry, a bit too warm, and the labels look nicer but probably the wine itself will not be as good
either. It will have matured a bit quicker; possibly hints at points of oxidation. Actually, my client who bought this bottle, he did open it and drink it, bless him, which is what it’s all about of course. He gave me a very pithy
tasting note; he said it was very nice, so I think that is evidence that
something that doesn’t look great can actually be a perfect example. So, what money well spent then? Yeah excuse me, I was just waving away
colleagues about to interrupt me. That’s ok. So, we’re at the end of the webinar
now and I just want to repeat a big thanks to Stuart George and
Arden Fine Wines of Mayfair. And if you have any follow-up questions regarding the work
of Arden Fine Wines, please feel free to contact them. You have the web address there, as well as the phone number and the email address. If you if anybody has
any questions right now then please type them into the chat on the right hand
side and we’ll wait for a couple of minutes and in that time, Stuart, do you
have any final closing thoughts? Well I’d just like to confirm that if you’re going to buy fine and rare wines, or indeed any wine really, just try and make sure it’s looked after properly and you know even my
parents insist on keeping a wine rack next to their oven. It drives me
absolutely potty. They’re not storing bottles in Mouton
Rothschild 1945 alas but nonetheless, the message doesn’t always get
through that it’s a perishable product it’s a food product and it needs to be
handled and looked after carefully, you know with some respect and some love and attention and care. Yes, so with that, I don’t see any further questions so I
want to thank you very much Stuart for your participation, collaboration and making this webinar and I thank you all out
there as well for joining us and I wish you all a good day going forward thank
you very much Stuart.! Thank you again thank you good
afternoon to everybody. Good afternoon.

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