by Wine Owners
Posted on 2022-02-03
As eagerly anticipated as the Sue Gray report, here it is, the annual WO round up and look ahead.
So, what happened?
2021 turned out to be a very good year for the wine market, the owners of wine and therefore for Wine Owners Ltd. also. Turnover on the exchange ramped up by 77% in 2021, producing more buying and selling opportunities than ever before! Our tenth year of trading is set to be an exciting one and has started well.
The broad based WO150 Index returned +15% with the stars of the show being Champagne and Burgundy, posting respectively +30% and +27%. Bordeaux returned a more modest 10% while Italy, having led the charge in 2020 came in with more modest numbers, yielding 6.5%. Tuscany performed better than Piedmont which was flat on the year. The Rhone did well, notching low double figures and the Rest of the World was twice as good as that, all thanks to California.
The reasons for the strength in the market were various; probably the biggest two were continued liquidity being pumped into the system in a low interest environment pushing more buyers into real assets, and the very real fear of inflation. Savings derived from staying at home more seems to have pushed up the spend on what people have been consuming at home – a quality driven drowning of sorrows in yet another lockdown!? The lifting of U.S. tariffs on some European wines brought a weight of new buying activity from across the pond, as did a lot of ‘new wave’ investment dollars - this should not be underestimated.
The market pre Covid had been largely stifled by various different factors but once demand started to outstrip supply, the market started to motor. Hong Kong and China were not responsible (for once) and collectively have been less of a force in recent times. Stringent lockdowns and border controls have meant very few visitors, especially of Mainland Chinese to Hong Kong, and an exodus of wealthy residents seeking a more liberated culture – some of the demand is moving elsewhere. Current thinking is that will last for some time (not just until after the Winter Olympics!), so be warned. I would expect Singapore to take up some of the slack and become a more prominent player.
I cannot remember Champagne ever being the star turn in the wine market before but given the cyclical nature of the market and the fact that the different regions are much more equal than they used to be, it is not surprising. It has also consistently delivered steady returns, see my report from last July, just before the market really accelerated. Reports of supply shortages coming out of the region and a slew of really good quality releases added further weight to the concept of Champagne as an investment proposition which led to some voracious buying activity. The Champagne Index is dominated by the biggest names and/or the tête de cuvée of noble producers. As ever, fine wine collectors and investors focus in on the most prized assets driving the gap between the seriously good and the seriously a little bit better than that ever wider. Here’s a good example, vintage Pol Roger ’06 versus the Sir Winston Churchill cuvée from the same year:
The ‘simple’ vintage Champagnes from good producers offer extremely good value to drinkers and is a segment of the market that has been left behind.
Where Champagne goes from here is one of the big questions as some of the recent returns have been enormous. Various vintages of Krug, Dom Perignon, Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, Pol Roger’s Winston Churchill have added more 50-100% in the last year and rosé Champagne has been bought in a way not seen before. I am tempted to take some profit from some of the biggest risers and look for some laggards.
The polarisation of the wine market and the premiums attached to the most desirable names have continued to grow and probably make less sense than ever before. Names such as Leroy, DRC and Rousseau in Burgundy have outperformed their neighbours and as highlighted in some of our recent offers, often trade at multiples of equally high scoring wines from the same vineyards but from less famous producers. Obviously, this creates opportunity and I feel more comfortable making bets at the prices that are a fraction of the big guys. Here is a comparison between Armand Rousseau’s Clos St. Jacques (light blue) versus Bruno Clair’s. This sort of chart can be repeated numerous times - premiums have become too large for my liking, but if Rousseau is your man and you have the cash….
The current shortage of 2020 red Burgundy and the general short supply frost hit ’21 vintage, see report from last November, will push prices and demand ever higher and whilst some price performances seem overly vertiginous, I anticipate they will continue their path – for now at least. High rollers love spending big on Burgundy and the small production levels really adds the glitter dust to this famous region. And there are always the producers that are beginning to make a name for themselves.
Bordeaux had a decent year, posting +10%. Apart from a brief flirtation with the 2019 en primeur release, Bordeaux has not been sexy for a very long time now. Market share continues to fall as other regions eat into the Bordelais’ gateau. It is still, and always will be, the largest slice of the market and those who buy into the general wine argument and need liquidity are best allocating here. It has become the steady Eddie. As a massive generalisation you know what you’re getting in your glass with a Bordeaux; a lot of that infuriating yet bewitching and beguiling wonder of what to expect from your wine just doesn’t exist in the same way that it does with Burgundian Pinot or Piedmont’s Nebbiolo and passionate collectors are just not quite so aroused by its charms (as I said, a generalisation!). I expect it to remain firm however.
Italy has had a mixed year. Super Tuscany has done well, the massive names of Sassicaia, Tignanello and Masseto have continued to shine posting average gains in the region of 25%, 35% and 25% respectively, and Solaia and Ornellaia also, but not so brightly. Lots of smaller Brunelli have fared quite well and this sector continues to build – hardly surprising given the price to quality ratio. Piedmont has had a mixed time, Monfortino in general is up a little in most vintages but lots of big names across the region have remained unchanged. I would not be surprised to see interest return to this area once Burgundy’s current run has blown through. There are still numerous 2016s looking very interesting for the longer term.
The Rhone valley is more appreciated than ever before. There are numerous cult producers all over Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Cornas with St. Joseph coming to the party nowadays. Prices of Rayas product from down south have travelled to the far north as collectors chase these rare treasures. White Rhone is still very much a speciality interest but one to keep an eye on. I have bought a lot of red Rhone for drinking from the WO platform in the last year or so as the combination of maturity, quality and price is virtually impossible to beat. There are plenty of names delivering superior returns too.
The Rest of the World
California has dominated the remaining regions with some ease, posting over 20%. Screaming Eagle has led the pack, followed by Ridge and Dominus. Australia has suffered at the hands of China’s tariffs.
I am confident the market will continue to perform well this year. Sentiment is strong, and supply in some key areas is shorter than usual, especially Burgundy. The inflation fear mentioned earlier is real and wine has been seen as a good hedge against this for a long time now. Interest rates are likely to rise but remain historically low and the real asset argument holds sway but will lessen as QE reverses – something to keep an eye on. Access to the fine wine market is greater than ever before, particularly in the U.S., and continues to grow.
As ever, I would be delighted to hear from you to discuss any of this, or anything else wine related. I am happy to help and advise on your portfolio or cellar, for investment or drinking purposes. And now we can go out again I would be delighted to share a bottle!
Miles Davis 02/02/2022