How to Protect Wine Provenance: A Step-by-Step Guide to Tracing Your Wine’s History

how to protect wine provenance

Wine experts can help you prove wine provenance by comparing your bottles to authentic bottles they have tasted in the past. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user State of Israel

Collectors often assume that a wine’s provenance doesn’t matter once they’ve bought their bottles and stowed them away in their cellars. This might be true if they only plan on drinking the wine, but if they want to resell the bottle later, the wine’s provenance still has a long way to go. I’ve bought bottles that I thought I would drink myself, only to realize years later that I’d rather sell them. This is why it’s important to imagine provenance like a roadmap; the wine’s destination depends on which roads it takes, and the journey isn’t over until the bottle is empty. Rather than treating your bottles as one-time investments, consider the entire lifespan that lies ahead of them and plot out your roadmap before you buy. Not only will this prevent you from buying fraudulent bottles, it will give you a greater return on your investment in the future.

Step One: Wine Provenance at the Winery Level

If you want the best return on your investment, you should start your provenance roadmap at the winery level by investing in futures, pre-arrivals, ex-chateau, or in-bond sales. The goal is to purchase every bottle directly from the winery or from bonded warehouses that work closely with wineries. Studies have found that ex-chateau auctions, where older vintages are stored and sold directly from the winery to collectors, garner anywhere from 50 to 100 percent more in price per bottle than the same wine that was held in a collector’s home cellar. When a bottle comes directly from the winery, there is no question of authenticity, and buyers are willing to pay a premium for that guarantee.

The older the bottle is, the more its provenance matters, and the more valuable it is to have records of provenance starting when the bottle left the winery. Let’s say you have a clear line of ownership from DRC directly to your doorstep for a bottle of 2005 La Tache. That provenance is valuable, but it’s not as valuable as direct-from-winery proof for a bottle of 1980 La Tache. The 1980 vintage will have spent more than 35 years on the market, and most bottles will have changed hands at least a dozen times. A pristine 1980 that has only had one owner is a true unicorn. By contrast, the 2005 vintage has only been on the market for about 10 years, and many bottles of this vintage might still only have one owner. Knowing this, it’s often best in terms of investment to buy young vintages now but hold onto them for at least 10 years before you put them on the market, when their carefully recorded, single-owner provenance will be more exceptional.

If you want proof of the provenance of wine bought from the winery, your roadmap will look like this:

how to protect wine provenance

Step Two: The Retailer Level

Not all of us have the luxury of buying directly from the winery for every vintage. Some wineries refuse to offer pre-sales, choosing to work exclusively with wholesale retailers instead. While this isn’t the best-case scenario for your roadmap, you can still ensure a traceable wine provenance by using the retailer’s clout. To start, only shop with distributors and retailers who have positive reputations in the wine world for selling authentic bottles, and who make an effort to combat wine fraud. Ask your retailer what distributor they use, and what kind of relationship they have with the winery. Do they have proof that the bottles were purchased wholesale from the winery? If so, ask for a copy of this receipt–you might not get the copy, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Save your proof of purchase from the retailer to show any future buyers.

If you want proof of provenance when buying from retailers and distributors, your roadmap will look like this:

how to protect wine provenance

Step Three: The Collector Level

What about ultra-popular bottles of cult wine? Unless you’re on the mailing list, you can’t get them from the winery, and distributors won’t have them in stock. You’ll need to buy your bottles from your fellow collectors instead. Since you no longer have direct proof from the winery that your bottle is authentic and you can’t rely on retailer clout, you have to rely on third party expert advice instead. Either hire an expert to check the authenticity of your bottles, or shop with distributors who have experts on staff to do this for you. This regains some proof of provenance. From there, you should store your wine professionally and save any receipts of storage if you move your bottles.

If you want traceable provenance when buying from another collector, your roadmap will look like this: 

how to protect wine provenance

In this situation, storage paperwork becomes essential. When you buy directly from the winery, all you have to do is show your future buyer your home cellar conditions to prove that the wine was stored properly for its entire lifetime. When you buy wine from a peer, there’s no way to know how the previous owners stored that bottle–it could have been stored in a hot kitchen for years. You can make up for lost ground by getting detailed reports from experts on the quality of the bottle, and from there, you should store your wine in the best conditions possible. Your goal is to prove to a future buyer that the bottle was in great condition when you bought it, and that you’ve maintained this condition via professional storage.

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 best wine.

Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.