Melissa L. Smith
Inheriting Wine Collections
I was called to write this post after a series of back to back inquiries for wine collection inventories and appraisals since the beginning of the year.
Some of the collections can be generous gifts, other times they can be immense burdens, and yet other times they are unexpected collections resulting in complicated emotions and dealing with them gets delayed for one reason or another. If you find yourself with a wine collection that you are planning on leaving to someone, or are on the receiving end, these are things you should take into perspective.
Make a plan. Do you truly care about the wines and will you appreciate them, or would someone else appreciate them more than the monetary value that they can bring? There is no right answer, but as someone that has dedicated their life to all aspects of wine, it kills me to throw away wine that should have been enjoyed.
Understand the wine. Does it have significance that you want to convey or understand? If you’ve purchased it for someone, or plan to leave it to someone, take the time to write a letter explaining its meaning, and how you wish them to enjoy it. Make sure it ends up in the right hands so that it is given to the intended recipient. Right now I’m going off of a handwritten note, likely written on the client's deathbed, and it’s up to me to get the wines to them. In another instance, a prolific collector passed away early and unexpectedly, and had three children under 21 years old. His widow and I selected wines to gift them on their 21st birthday that would have emotional and financial significance. Last week I had to discard wines that had incredible value. Because of their fill levels they were unable to be sold at auction, and because of temperature fluctuations the cork had been vacuumed into the bottle and was floating in the wine. The color was still great considering they were nearly 90 years old in some cases, but back then the capsules were made of lead, and with no barrier between the wine and the capsule, the wines had to be tossed. They were inherited from my client’s grandfather, and I so wish that he would have planned an intimate dinner to pull the corks and taste the wines when he had the opportunity.
Find out what you have as early as possible so that you can make an informed decision. Have a proper inventory and appraisal. What is the financial value of the wine? Are they still drinkable? Do you have proper storage to take on the wines? If you are interested in liquidating them, know what you will need going into the transaction. (And brokering them will most likely result in the best possible outcome).
Make a point to drink the wines when you can, with people that you want to share them with. You can't take them with you, but you can leave people with incredible memories of meals shared and conversations had over special bottles. In one of the recent scenarios, one of the recipients of a wine collection decided to only take the bottles that were meant to be shared with the deceased, and while I have my own annual practice of drinking a bottle of Franciacorta to honor and remember a close friend that passed, I'd give anything to have another day to share that bottle with her and create another afternoon of memories.