What is Wine Investment ? Interview with Peter R. Shakeshaft – CEO, Vin-X Limited

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Peter Shakeshaft is the founder and CEO of Vin-X, a market-leading specialist in fine wine investment. A qualified corporate financier, Peter’s career spans twenty years in the Financial Services industry where he founded and led a group which grew sales to over £100million. Having observed the value of fine wine as a private collector, Peter founded Vin-X in March 2010. Vin-X provides a client-focused service creating profitable portfolios of the finest wines in the world.

His philanthropy has extended to being a member of the British Olympic Association’s National Olympic Committee and also a former Chairman of the British Bobsleigh Association, a Governor of a dyslexic school, Chairman of a Surrey environmental pressure group, building a nursery at his local school and being the Junior Chairman of his local rugby club.  A keen sportsman Peter enjoys skiing, sailing and rugby.

Questions

1. Why should people invest in fine wine?

Fine wine is recognized by wealth managers and investors as an alternative asset which provides a low-risk, stable, tax efficient investment with the potential to hedge inflation and currency movements. In the long term, fine wine outperforms other assets and its performance does not directly correlate with more volatile financial markets and can be used to enhance a rounded investment portfolio.

A survey undertaken by Barclays in 2012 reported that 25 per cent of the high net worth individuals reviewed owned fine wine and that represented an approximate 2 per cent of their wealth. The Knight Frank Wealth Report 2014 stated that fine wine is one of the most popular “passion investments” and that globally there has been a 34 per cent increase in the number of high net worth individuals investing in wine.

With that kind of data we believe every investor should own a case of fine wine.

2. How do wine investment funds actually work?

Firstly, let’s be clear, Vin-X does not operate a wine investment fund. Vin-X offers their clients the opportunity to simply acquire fine wine by the case on an individual basis not as a pooled investment.

Our team includes experts in both financial and wine markets and we appraise the fine wine market to identify those wines that offer the best opportunity for growth. We only look at the wines from the foremost producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Champagne, Tuscany, Spain, California and Australia.

Once the wine is acquired our clients will receive certificates of ownership and their wine will be shipped to our nominated Government bonded storage facility in the UK, where they can visit and view their wine. This is important as this will ensure the perfect storage conditions for their wine, protecting its quality and future value. It also dictates the tax treatment of the wine, whereby VAT and Duty would not be chargeable until removed from bond.

3.      What influences the market and the price of wine? Are critic scores an important factor?

A: There are a number of factors which influence the market and in summary these include the following:

  • Supply and Demand – there are very few producers of investment-grade wine in the world from a small number of key regions. Each chateau or winery produces a finite number of cases of wine per vintage. For example First Growth Chateau Lafite Rothschild makes on average 15,000 cases per year and this is one of the larger fine wine producers. It’s not like equities where a company may issue more shares. Once the wines reach their drinking windows consumption makes these wines even rarer and their value rises proportionately. In terms of demand the traditional markets for fine wine were Europe and North America, now it’s a truly global commodity and the new wealth from China, Russia, India and the Far East has had a significant impact on the demographic of the market and prices.
  • Brand- There are certain producers that have a significant status and      influence on the market. For example the five First Growths of Bordeaux; Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Haut Brion are considered to be luxury brands in their own right commanding global demand and premium values. The movement in prices of these wines can influence the whole market.
  • Climate – Growing conditions will affect the quality and volume of wine available every vintage. Bordeaux now has such stringent quality control in the making of its fine wine that it is rare that the top wines still do not achieve excellent scores but certainly this is a determining factor.
  • Critics – The professional wine critics are very influential and a few have the ability to move the prices in fine wine when they publish their scores following tastings. The industry’s most notable critic in recent times is American, ex-lawyer Robert Parker Jnr and his scoring system is used by the industry to rank the quality of wines.

e.   Price transparency – The advent of the industry’s exchange function, Liv-ex in the late 1990’s transformed the market bringing greater visibility on pricing and improved liquidity.

4.      How is this sector doing in 2014?

A: Founder and Director of Liv-ex, James Miles reviewed the market at the International Wine & Spirits Fair in Hong Kong on the 6th November 2014. He observed, in a presentation to the trade, that in pretty much every decade investors saw significant returns and yet natural market dynamics meant there were also notable declines. The most recent example of this saw First Growth values rise 4.5 times between 2005 and 2011 to then fall by 41 per cent in the most recent, and current dip, between 2011 and 2014.

Today, trade on Liv-ex in Bordeaux is at its lowest percentage in a decade, with Burgundy premium brand Domaine Romanee Conti benefiting. But such is the strength of Bordeaux that even this reduced market share is in excess of 70 percent. It’s a Buyers Market for en primeur and young Bordeaux wines, but Miles states that Bordeaux wines are now offering serious value with prices at the lowest point since the 1970s.

Diversification into wines of other regions such as Champagne, Rhone and Tuscany, witnessed in the market over the past few years, have broadened investor focus and helped minimize the potential exposure to market movements.

Miles view concurs with ours, that the current Bordeaux prices represent a good stage to enter the market.

5.  Due to some wine investment scams, investors have been particularly sceptical about wine investment companies. Is that the reason why you founded the Wine Investment Association?

A: Firstly, I founded Vin-X because I was personally an investor in wine and my portfolio had performed well, particularly in contrast to my equities at the time. However, I felt that the market lacked the approach to selling an asset a customer experiences in the financial services sector. I realized the gap in the market and put together a team with experience in both financial services and fine wine. The analysis we use to select wines has resulted in our client’s portfolios out-performing market trend.

In the process of building Vin-X I learnt a lot more about the market and unfortunately the fact that the bad management, or worse, fraudulent actions of a few have caused loss to consumers and a lack of trust in the wine investment sector. I knew we had to take action and put in place industry measures to protect investors in fine wine. I had established robust operating systems and controls in Vin-X similar to those used in financial services, such as recorded phone calls and administrative systems to protect my clients. I also took the additional step of undergoing an annual independent audit to check those systems and verify the ownership and location of our client wines in storage. But my experience of the sector was that the measures we had in place were not industry standard. I felt the wine investment community had to do more and made an appeal to that effect in the trade press in April 2012.

This resulted in myself and a few other notable people in the industry setting up the WIA in 2013 with the endorsement of the NFIB (National Fraud Investigation Bureau). Mazars undertakes independent audits on all member companies to ensure they are fit to join and the members must comply with the WIA’s code of conduct (see Vin-X.co.uk). It’s early days yet for the Association but we feel this is a step in the right direction to help eradicate malpractice in the industry and protect investors in fine wine.

6.Where is the investment wine stored?

A: Our clients’ wines are stored in our nominated Government bonded specialist wine storage facility with London City Bond. All clients’ wines are allocated an individual rotation number per case with which the client’s ownership is recorded at LCB and in Vin-X systems. This is key in terms of security and ownership is never in question.

The specialist storage facility also ensures the optimum temperature and humidity conditions to protect the quality and value of the wine.

The Government in-bond status also ensures the ‘off-shore’ tax treatment of the wine. This means that VAT and Duty charges are not triggered unless the wine is removed from Bond. Investors can sell their wine without transferring it out of bonded storage and hence they can complete a transaction cycle without these tax charges becoming payable.

Our clients can visit the facility and view their wines at their convenience.

7. What kind of relationship do you have with wine makers?

A: We are relative newcomers to the market but we have already formed important and lasting relationships with key wine makers in Bordeaux and other regions. Our clients hold more than £20million of their wine and this is recognized and valued by the wine community.

8.      What are the most coveted fine wines at the moment?

A: This is best reflected in the market share wines are commanding as published on Liv-ex, the industry exchange. The finest wines of Bordeaux are the staple to any robust wine portfolio and although we have recently gone through a decline in prices of the wines from this region and in particular in the First Growths they will always be considered the most coveted brands in the world of wine.

Other Bordeaux favourites include Second Growths Pichon-Baron and Cos d’Estournel and notably the wines of Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Petrus and Le Pin command premium prices due to their rarity and exquisite quality. A case of 1947 Cheval Blanc sold for £188,712 at auction in Christies, Switzerland.

Bordeaux also produces great whites and the Sauternes wines produced by Chateau d’Yquem are thought to be the finest white wines in the world. The most expensive white wine sold on record is for Chateau d’Yquem 1811, thought to be one of the finest Sauternes vintages, for £72,500.

Celebrity critic, Robert Parker Jnr points to the wine of his “magical 20” producers he tipped during the tastings of the outstanding 2009 vintage. He tipped these wines as ‘investments for the future’ and they are some of our favourites.

The super star Burgundy favourite, Domaine Romanee Conti (DRC) whose quality and rarity commands extraordinary prices. DRC values have declined in the last six months following extraordinary highs in the two years prior to this and some view this as a bubble bursting but the demand for this superlative brand is well established.

Key wines from Tuscany and Champagne are commanding increasing investor attention and the iconic Penfolds Grange from Australia and Opus One and Screaming Eagle of California are also high on the list of the most coveted wines in the world. A 6-litre bottle of the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon reached £345,000 at auction in Napa Valley in 2000 – that is the potential of fine wine.

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