Selling Wine on Consignment: Strategies for Staying Legal and Finding the Best Consignment Service

When you inherit a fine bottle of wine like Margaux, you need a great consignment service to legally sell your wine to the widest audience of Margaux fans. Photo Credit: Augustas Didžgalvis

When you inherit a fine bottle of wine like Margaux, you need a great consignment service to legally sell your wine to the widest audience of Margaux fans. Photo Credit: Augustas Didžgalvis


 A few years ago, a Chowhound forum member faced a problem many collectors have when they suddenly inherit a huge wine collection: how to sell the bottles on consignment. The writer was brand new to wine, and had no clue what the wines that had been willed to him were worth on the market. “I don’t have the space for it, unfortunately, so I need to sell it off. The thing is, I’m pretty sure most of it isn’t in great condition,” the writer explains. What would you do in this situation? Not only do you need to decide whether the bottles are worth selling in the first place, but you need to find the best consignment service for the job. The best wine consignment services offer collectors a diverse range of options, regardless of whether the collector has prior experience selling wine. Here are the qualities your wine consignment service should have.  

Quality One: Their Legal Standing Is Up to Snuff

According to federal law, all wine sellers need to be licensed before shipping bottles to a buyer. Writer Bahaneh Hobel adds, “While consignment sales may still be occurring in the industry, all licensees should remember that the excuse of ‘other people are doing it’ is not a valid defense in the event of a [California Business and Professions Code] or [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau] enforcement action!” You might hear about collectors deciding to go it alone with their wine sales, but it’s important to note that this is an illegal practice that could land you a hefty fine or even some jail time, depending on your state’s regulations. Before choosing a consignment service, research your state’s laws about alcohol shipments.

Responsible consignment services will have already done their homework on the legality of wine sales, especially with regard to wine ownership titles. Many consignment services, like Vinfolio, require prospective collectors to store their bottles in their warehouse. This keeps the bottles safe and prevents future buyers from sending the wine directly back to the original collector if there is a problem with the wine. When a collector is unlicensed, it’s illegal for the collector to ship wine directly to the buyer, or vice versa if the buyer wants to return the wine. Everyone involved needs to be licensed, and the wine title needs to reflect this. At Vinfolio, the wine title is under the company’s name, and this title changes over to the buyer upon receipt of the wine.

Some wine writers recommend selling wines on your own website to save on costs, but this comes with a risk. The money you might save on consignment fees doesn’t outweigh the possibility of breaking your state’s wine sale laws. Alcohol sales are complex, so it’s always better to sell your wine through established auction services that have done the legal research than to host your own auction. Online wine auctions through Vinfolio are entirely compliant with current California ABC Act standards, which regulates the sale of wine in the state. Every aspect of the auction is handled by Vinfolio, meaning that wine collectors are not involved in hosting the auction.

Quality Two: They Can Accurately Assess Your Bottles

Now that you’ve determined whether the consignment service you’re considering is legal, you need to check that your service understands how to assess your bottles for quality and authenticity. The best wine consignment services will want to check your bottles for quality before they agree to sell them, since their reputations are on the line. No consignment service wants to be known for selling damaged, fraudulent bottles. Look at any consignment service with healthy suspicion if they offer to take your bottles without inspecting them. This extra step will also provide you with higher-caliber buyers for your wine bottles; serious buyers only want to invest in pristine, authentic bottles, and they’ll avoid any consignment auctions from untrustworthy companies. Wine auctioneer Ben Nelson says, “It is really storage conditions and provenance that are our biggest concerns because we want to be sure that we are selling the best example of this wine.”

Consignment services like Vinfolio offer two options for prospective collectors: in-person assessments and thorough inspections upon first receipt of the wine. The in-person assessment is the best option if you aren’t sure what kind of wines you have, and don’t want to risk shipping the bottles off to the warehouse only to discover that the wines aren’t worth selling. With this option, a wine expert visits your cellar directly or communicates with you by phone or video chat. These experts help you get your wines organized and offer advice on which bottles are worth selling and which are best for simply drinking yourself.

If you don’t want to deal with this extra step, simply send Vinfolio a list of the wines you want to sell, and ship the bottles they accept to the Vinfolio warehouse. From there, a group of experts will inspect the bottles for fill marks, intact labels, cork health, capsule quality, and coloration. The experts will only accept bottles that meet strict standards, and Vinfolio has a refund policy in place to protect buyers from buying flawed wines. This means that Vinfolio’s service attracts the most discerning, serious buyers, since the company does all that it can to ensure that only quality wines are sold. This is also a boon for wine collectors selling their wines, since they are given access to a network of serious wine collectors who might be interested in buying their wines.

Quality Three: They Have an Expansive Network and Resources

When you want to sell your wine online, you need to reach as many eyeballs as possible. The main point of using a consignment service is to get your wine in front of buyers who would want it. According to auctioneer Ben Nelson, it is difficult to sell individual bottles of wine, since the quality of these bottles can’t always be guaranteed. It’s far easier to sell by the case, since sellers can often prove that the case has been unopened and is in mint condition. However, it’s far from impossible to sell off individual bottles of wine; Vinfolio’s expansive network of buyers includes many collectors who are only interested in buying single bottles. Buyers looking for unique wines for special events, like wedding anniversaries, often buy on consignment because they want to get great deals on a couple bottles without investing in a full case of a vintage.

In addition, the best wine consignment services will attract buyers through social networks. Vinfolio has a thriving online community forum which allows collectors to communicate with one another about wines. Many of these members use the VinCellar community app, which allows fellow members to see which wines they have reviewed, or which wines the community is most excited to try. Sellers can use this information when they sell their own bottles. Are forum members interested in Willamette Valley wines like Beaux Freres? Is there a high demand for 1990s Latour vintages? Are they looking for Super Tuscans from Tenuta San Guido? When you get a sense of which wines buyers are drinking now, and how much they’re willing to pay for these bottles, it’s simple to sell your own wine for a reasonable amount.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.

Leah Hammer is Vinfolio’s Director of Cellar Acquisitions, guiding private collectors through the selling process. When not on the hunt for amazing cellars, she competes in marathons and rehydrates with Champagne and Burgundy.