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Wine as an Investment: Tips from Marie Keep, Autioneer

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Skinner Inc. will host their Fine Wines auction on Tuesday night, November 2, in their gallery at Boston's Park Plaza. Held in partnership with the Lower Falls Walls Co. of Newton Lower Falls, Skinner welcomes first-time auction attendees as well as seasoned bidders.

I asked Marie Keep, auctioneer and Skinner's Fine Wine specialist, to help me get the lay of the land.


RWB: You’ve seen an uptick recently in your business of auctioning fine wine. What do you think is driving that?

MARIE KEEP: One reason is that there are more people who are simply aware that we’re here doing this. When you build any business, you have to really let people know you’re here, you’re doing it, and you can be relied upon to do it. That’s happening now. Clients that have been there since the beginning tell their friends. We also advertise internationally and clients come to us that way. When you’re buying wine you have to make sure you trust the person who’s vetting it. Plus we’re here [in Boston] so there isn’t the stress of taking the wine to New York or shipping it somewhere.


RWB: Why is there more wine available at auction now than there was before?

MARIE KEEP: The quality and quantity of what I’ve been able to see this time around has really taken my breath away. People are also buying in more volume now, domestically and internationally. The economy has recovered to a certain extent, especially in the world of wine. Investment-quality wines have reached pre-recession levels, and people see that it’s a very good opportunity to buy. 


RWB: Why is there so much auction-worthy wine within New England itself?

MARIE KEEP: People here are very wine savvy. They may have participated in auction in the past, in London, New York, Hong Kong, or San Francisco. Now Skinner is a real, viable, strong option locally. A lot of people never really considered auctioning their wine before because it was so difficult logistically. You need to get in touch, you need to ship it, you need to know what to do if it doesn’t sell. In New England there are families who have been collecting for generation, and a lot of wines have been stored for decades. That’s exactly the kind of wine we love to see and buyers love to see – wines that have been stored correctly, and that haven’t passed through too many different hands.


RWB: Tell me about wine as a way to diversify an investment portfolio.

MARIE KEEP: You don’t want to choose just one way of investing your money. The return on wine is one of the stronger returns you can have. You have to choose carefully, in investment-grade wines like classified Bordeaux or finer Burgundies. You want to pay attention to barrel tastings, to what critics are saying about it, and perhaps you walk in at a futures price. You’re investing in the belief that the wine is going to be glorious when it comes into its own. That’s a minimum of five to seven years before you’d want to turn it around again. Auction is really the way to go with investment wines because you’re realizing the market value on that day in the worldwide marketplace. You put in only as much money as you can afford to lose, but unlike other investments where you can lose your money totally and have nothing left to show for it, with wine you still have the collection. Chances are that the market will come back, and you’ll still have the wine. It’s an investment in something tangible. Wine is an evolving, beautiful thing and it has a future. It’s a more personal investment that is made to some people’s tastes and lifestyles.


RWB: How can a buyer prepare for the auction? What factors can help them decide what to buy?

MARIE KEEP: You have to know your palate. Know how the wine is drinking. Know the country, the vintage, the varietals you’re interested in. Search the index to see what’s in the book. Turn to the lot, description, where there’s often a critic’s note in it. Consult any number of wine reference books. Find out what people are saying about the wine’s longevity, it’s peaking, how it’s drinking right now. Put it into the context of your own home life and social life. Each of those lots becomes highly personalized when you’re looking at it through the prism of so many different criteria.


RWB: How will the opinions of new-media journalists influence the value of wines at auction?

MARIE KEEP: There are wine critics who are devoted to certain areas of the world – like Alan Meadows in Burgundy and Robert Parker in Bordeaux – who simply cannot be ignored. They are influential and respected. Opinions vary, but they’ve ridden to prominence for many good reasons. They’ve tasted an incredible number and range of good wines, and they provide a structure of criticism. Critics among the younger population, who are starting their careers in wine and have a really participatory following, have their place too. 


RWB: When you look out to the audience on Tuesday night, what is the profile you’ll expect to see?

MARIE KEEP: All different faces and ages, both men and women. You tend to be able to slot their comfort level. Some have catalog ready, they’ve made notes and come prepared. Some are new and are taking notes on what other lots are selling for, because they’re trying to figure it out. They may just be watching, they may be buying the dinner party lots at the end because they want to stretch their dollar. Some people are buying for investment, and some people are buying for their needs. For every holiday, for example, between now and the first of January. We welcome that mixed group! Come, enjoy yourself, see the bidding, participate if you’re so moved. There’s a bottle for everybody at auction.


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