|Mona Lisa with a glass of wine and a bottle |
revisited by ©LeDomduVin 2020
Value of an Original Wooden Case:
Unopened vs. Opened
Is the value of an unopened OWC higher than an opened one?
I was recently asked about "the negative impact of wine values caused by opened original wooden cases (OWC)", meaning, in fact,
- "Does an unopened original wooden case (OWC) has more value than an opened one?"
or, again, asked differently:
- "Can the value of an OWC depreciate if opened compared to an unopened one?"
While browsing the internet, I could not find a specific answer or article on the subject, which surprised me as the matter has been (and still is) a recurring subject of controversial discussions among wine buyers and more especially among wine collectors, (which prompted me to write this post to try to answer these questions with my own views and experiences).
So, to immediately cut to the chase and get to the point, in short, the answer is quite logical (and, in my opinion, will always be):
YES! In the eyes of a wine buyer and a wine collector, unopened OWC cases will always have a higher value than opened OWC.
An unopened "Original Wooden Case" (OWC) or even an "Original Carton Case" (OCC) (sometimes abbreviated OCB for "Original Carton Box"), will always have more value than opened ones. More especially, if sealed with the original band, either from the winery (Château or Domaine) or from the Négociant or the official distributor/wine-merchant (e.g. JP Moueix - see picture below).
In fact, unopened OWC / OCC, (moreover if sealed with the original band), can/should/will have a direct impact on both the monetary value of the wine and its intrinsic value to you (whether moral, historical, sentimental or emotional).
It is even more especially true for the top tiers and prestigious Châteaux and Domaines, predominantly from Bordeaux and Burgundy, which usually command a hefty price tag if/when they are sold as sealed/unopened OWC.
Great wine is like a Mona Lisa
Great wine is like this painting of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa above (that I personally revisited by adding a glass of wine and a bottle to illustrate this post), rare and expensive, complex and layered, mysterious, intriguing, surprising and (usually) better with age, only revealing itself after a certain time of opening or decanting.
Similarly to the effects Mona Lisa's eyebrows-less eyes and tight-lipped smile, as well as her poise and composure, procure to the mind and spirit, the complexity and the details of the aromas/flavours and the sensation a great wine procures to the eyes, nose and palate, create a puzzling, yet fascinating, almost bewitching edge to it.
Like for famous paintings, (or any other valuables), the most renowned Châteaux and Domaines have long understood that it is important to protect these treasurable bottles.
Securing and enclosing them in marked Original Wooden Cases (OWC), bearing the name of the estate and other details of the content, sealed closed by nails, became the norm early XXth century and appeared to be the best way to protect them from both shocks and/or breakage during handling and/or transit, as well as to ease the storage process.
Yet, it did not protect the wines from anyone (like thieves, fraudsters or even counterfeiters) to gently and carefully open the lid before putting it back after finishing their larceny, which prompted the top tier Châteaux and Domaines to secure their OWC cases with a solid strap or band around the box (metallic historically, nowadays usually made of plastic or other synthetic materials).
From Metallic to plastic/synthetic material bands
Until about a few decades ago, some of these illustrious Châteaux and Domaines were still going to the trouble of sealing their original wooden case (or box), with a metallic band, like "Domaine de la Romanée Conti
" (DRC), to further protect their precious gems.
|Domaine de la Romanee Conti OWC with Metallic band |
courtesy of WineBid.com
On that note, Domaine de la Romanée Conti
(DRC) has changed, (in the early 2000s, I believe, but not sure exactly when), its original band from the metallic one (in the picture above) to the plastic/synthetic one (in the picture below), now bearing the name of the property on it.
Some Bordeaux's Great Growths and other Chateaux have also been banding their precious cases with metallic bands until the end of the last century. Then, they replaced it with plastic or synthetic ones, like the ones on the case of Petrus
below, for example, nowadays bearing original bands with the Petrus logo.
|Petrus OWC with plastic bands |
: Although the plastic or synthetic bands, nowadays, usually bear the logo and/or the name of the estate (Chateaux ou Domaine), some bands might also bear the name of the official Négociant or distributor/wine-merchant, like "JP Moueix
" for Petrus
, for example, (like on the picture below).
|Petrus OWC |
with Original Négociant Band JP Moueix
One may notice that to prevent the band from easily being pulled out from the case, the wood of the lid and the bottom of the cases (of Petrus
above) have been carved with two lines serving as reinforcing paths for the bands to fasten the case more securely.
Not all wineries have adopted these carved band paths on their wooden cases, yet it has become more common now than it was roughly a decade ago when it first started to appear, especially with the first growths of Bordeaux from both Left and Right banks.
Original Carton Box atop Original Wooden Case for extra security
Some wineries like Château Cheval Blanc
, for example, have even been to the trouble of covering (or enclosing) their original wooden cases into an original carton box, instead of or even in addition to the original bands, that way adding an extra layer of security to prevent anyone from messing around the content.
|Chateau Cheval Blanc 2012 |
Carton Box atop the Original Wooden Case
Not sure if the consequences on the environment have been taken into consideration when they had this idea... Let's just hope the carton box is, at least, made of recycled cartons and/or easily biodegradable.
Aside from this negative note of using more wood-related products, and thus (directly or indirectly) impacting the environment, contributing to deforestation, having a greater carbon footprint and generating more waste, the positive note of having such a carton box atop the original wooden case is that it can only be open intentionally.
Meaning that if wooden cases can gently and carefully be opened and sealed back without leaving obvious opening marks (it is a tricky art that requires experience and skill, but it can be done, I have done it countless times), the carton box (like the one above), on the other end, has been conceived in such way that it can only be opened once (you can see the peeling band on the side, once peeled, it cannot be put back together or closed back the way it was).
However, even if conceived with extra security for the wine in mind, and no matter how genius this idea is, it is unfortunately not really respectful of the environment. This, in fact, is quite surprising for an estate like Château Cheval Blanc
, which is claiming the sustainability of its culture in the vineyards, along their vegetable garden cultivated under the permaculture
(*), their 16 beehives and the many fruit trees they possess, creating great biodiversity helping them fight against vine diseases more naturally and in respect with the environment.
More especially knowing that Château Cheval Blanc
roughly produces about 6000 cases (12 bottles) of the Grand Vin or about 72000 bottles, or 12000 cases of 6 bottles (like the one on the picture above) with original carton box atop the original wooden case... That's a lot of cartons... (and about 2000 cases of the 2nd wine).
However, although cartons produce a lot of waste, they are mostly recyclable, which might not be the case for the plastic (or other synthetic materials) used to fabricate the original bands (those with the winery or wine-merchant prints on them), and the blank ones too, that we can see on most OWC cases nowadays.
The roles and importance of the original band
The winery's (or wine-merchant) original band has 3 different roles:
- Secure the sealing of the case by
Serve as extra protection of the wines, more especially during transit or shipping, by
- preventing someone from easily opening the lid or bottom part of the OWC case
And, more importantly, ensuring
- maintaining the lid tightly closed
- preventing someone from messing around with the case (like in 1.)
- preventing the case from accidentally coming open (in case of an eventual incident occurring at departure or arrival or even during transit)
- the provenance, quality and conditions of the bottles inside,
- as well as adding genuine intrinsic value to the whole case (and its content)
Cutting or not cutting the original band? That is the question...
Wholesalers usually buy wines directly at the property, or from Négociants or other officially appointed vendors, and therefore, OWC cases might be banded with the winery's original band, or the Negociant's or official vendor's band. Usually, distributors, retailers and/or even private buyers, buying large quantities from these wholesalers, will not cut the original band, as it is proof of the provenance/sourcing of the wines, making the OWC case more valuable with it than without.
Wine Retailers (cavistes, supermarkets, or even restaurants and hotels), who usually buy wines from the wholesalers (or agents or distributors or more recently directly from the producers), might tend to cut the original band and opened the OWC, as they normally sell by the bottle or smaller quantities rather than by the full case.
NB: That said, Retailers (cavistes, supermarkets, or even restaurants and hotels) might keep some full cases aside, untouched and unopened, just in case, for either storage or investment or ageing purposes. Yet, the smaller structures, that do not have the space nor the finance, might end up cutting the band and opening the cases, at some point, as it is easier for them to store and sell by the unit.
Auction Houses: Although prestigious and established auction houses like Christie's, Sotheby's and Acker Merrall & Condit, nowadays, tend to cut or break the band (or seal) of unopened OWC (and even the one on the original carton box, if any) to check and inspect the content, it used to be a time when they did not to preserve the genuine authenticity of the case.
In fact, Auction Houses' policies and opinions, on the matter of cutting the band (if any) and opening sealed OWC (or not), have evolved over the past decade, and often greatly differ from one auction house to another.
Yet, although the matter remains quite controversial, within the wine community, as everyone seems to have his/her own opinion and point of view (without being able to find a compromise), the auction houses seem to have gone from one extreme to another, all agreeing on the fact that now (compared to 10-20 years ago), the band should be cut/broken and the case open to inspect the content to prevent from fake and/or counterfeited bottles to be sold and spread the market.
The story behind "Why Auction Houses cut the band and open the OWC cases nowadays?"
Historically, (roughly prior to 2010), unopened OWC cases, (especially if sealed with either a metallic band or the winery or official wine-merchant band), were left sealed and untouched as a guarantee of the provenance/sourcing.
Thus, ensuring the genuine origin, quality, quantity and pristine conditions of the bottles inside and matching the wine description, vintage and volume (bottle format) indicated on the OWC. Hence, indicating that no one messed around with the content of the case.
NB: Note that, back then, in most case scenarios, as most Auction Houses did not necessarily inspect the content (of the unopened or even sealed/banded OWC cases), the ownership and storage conditions history, before the sale, was the sole guarantee of the good conditions of the bottles and the wine inside.
Even though a banded case fetched a little bit more money at auction, back then, documented pristine provenance (ownership and storage conditions history) was usually the most important factor (if /when available and beyond authentication of the wine's identity) when it came to assessing a wine's value at auction.
Bidders and collectors usually paid a higher price for such untouched, unopened and sealed OWC cases back then (some still are now, if or when they can find one... that is).
When wines were put up for sale at Auctions, many bidders and collectors considered an unopened original wooden case to be more valuable, as it was evident that the wine had not been tampered with or manipulated since it left the winery. Even more so, if the OWC was banded.
Consequently, back then, Auction Houses were pretty much all in agreement with the fact that unless the case condition and/or provenance is doubtful and full inspection must be done, for all unopened/sealed/banded OWC, the band/seal should not be cut and the case not be opened.
However, things have changed since then.
Nowadays, although the matter of cutting/breaking the band and opening the OWC cases (for full inspection) is still debated, most Auction Houses have adopted a different attitude toward the matter, by saying, contrastingly, compared to a decade ago, that it is now necessary to open the previously unopened/untouched and/or even banded/sealed OWC cases to check and inspect the content.
And, evidently, it has mostly something to do with fakes and counterfeits.
Fake and Counterfeits
This change of attitude (from the Auction Houses) was first triggered around 2010 when rumours of large amounts of counterfeits and fake bottles of wines had been spreading throughout the market for a few years already and suspicions were high.
Although counterfeits and fakes already existed well before, mainly since the 60s-70s, they always remained quite low in numbers, and, except on a few notable yet rare occasions, only appeared occasionally and sporadically up until the early 2000s (unless it was the lack of knowledge and information on the subject that made it feel that way...).
Then, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, it became obvious that high-quality counterfeits and fakes had been around for a while now. More especially in 2012, when Rudy Kurniawan was arrested for wine fraud, after having sold countless amounts of fake and counterfeited bottles of old vintages and large formats of rare and expensive wines (for at least 6 years before his arrest).
Rudy counterfeited numerous unique bottles of iconic wines such as magnums of Le Pin 1982, Chateau Lafleur 1947, and other Bordeaux, as well as Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Domaine Ponsot, amongst other Burgundy wines. And, from the early 2000s until his arrest in 2012, he successfully managed to sell his counterfeited bottles to his friends and acquaintances, as well as some auction bidders and collectors, via some of the world's most famous Auction Houses.
Rudy's first fake lots were sold at two major auctions at Acker Merrall and Condit
back in 2006, which ended up generating long-lasting bidder suspicions toward this particular auction house, right after his arrest in March 2012.
Yet, other prestigious Auction Houses such as Christie's
and Spectrum Wine Auctions
also fell into Rudy's trap and/or denounced the scam and/or ended up withdrawing some suspicious lots right before some of their auctions.
Rudy's scam scheme and arrest marked an important historical point in time for auction houses and the overall world wine market. The auction market was wounded. Bidders were suspicious. And both wine professionals and the public came to realise that the market was, in fact, flooded with fakes and counterfeits. And, more importantly, Rudy was only the tip of the iceberg, as a few other wine fraudsters and counterfeiters were also arrested around the same time period, in the early 2010s.
Since then, it has been said that at least 15-20% of the top-tier wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy in the market are probably fakes or counterfeits. If you take Lafite Rothschild, for example, there are probably more bottles on the market than the original total amount that was ever produced at the Chateau.
Historically, wine fraud has always existed, one way or another. Whether it was by enhancing weak wine (due to weak vintage) with other grape varieties from warmer climates (adding Rhone grape varieties to Pinot Noir in Burgundy, or adding Spanish grapes such as Tempranillo or other grapes (even from North Africa, e.g. Maroc) to strengthen weak Bordeaux wines for example, or adding water to increase the quantity, adding sugar to increase the alcohol, adding wood chips in stainless still tanks, etc... and whatever else you can think of, it has probably been done, one way or another.
Up until the early 1980s, certain fraudulent practices were all fine and even admitted as common practices to a certain extent, as most people knew about them and accepted to do them, closing their eyes and saying nothing, even if it was against Appellation's rules. Bulk wines from Languedoc, Spain or even some northern African countries (e.g. Maroc, Algeria, Tunisia...) reaching Bordeaux to reinforce the wines in weak vintages were not uncommon practices, but no illustrious Bordeaux producers will ever tell you that...
1982: The first great vintage that changed Bordeaux winemaking methods under the influence of the American taste.
What happened next changed the wine-buying and selling scene forever. Robert Parker Junior, a lawyer passionate about wine, who was writing detailed and persuasive notes and reviews about all wines he tasted, consigning them into a newsletter firstly intended for his family, friends and colleagues, came to Bordeaux to assess, evaluate and rate the 1982 vintage.
The quality of the 1982 Bordeaux vintages was the result of a combination of the vintage's exceptional conditions during the growing and ripening seasons, which had not been seen for the last few decades, not since 1961 at least, 21 years earlier, (most of the 60s and 70s in Bordeaux being terrible in terms of wine quality and consistency); as well as the consequences of the first of a long list of heat waves that have become very common, or even became the new norm (I should say), due to the rapid increase of climate and weather changes and global warming, over the last 40 years, which, interestingly enough, produced some of the most spectacular Bordeaux vintages such as 1985, 1989, 1990, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020...
...and even the controversial 2003 (controversial in a way that most connoisseurs, buyers and critics rated it very high during the En Primeurs campaign, (I hated it then as it was over-riped, unbalanced and inconsistent), while realising their mistakes once bottled, 2 years later, mentioning the same reasons I did 2 years earlier, and it ended up being one of the most difficult vintages to sell (lots of cancelled orders and the wine remained on the retailer's shelves for years after that).
However, going back to the 1982 vintage, once super highly rated by Robert Parker Jr. and America having bitten the hook, from that moment on, Bordeaux wine (and also Burgundy to a certain extent) cease to be an accessible and approachable beverage of choice to the mass and became a luxury good, a commodity, an object of speculation, which would rapidly become highly sought-after and speculated upon by both amateurs and avid wine collectors.
From that moment on, the top tiers of Bordeaux and Burgundy cease to be consumed for pleasure, prices skyrocketed and they evidently became wines for investment to generate a profit, more than for consumption. It became an object of "convoitise"!
Parker's visit to Bordeaux and the resulting 1982 vintage ratings he produced in his newsletter (wine publication) called the "Wine Advocate", as well as those from the other critics and wine magazines, who followed in his footsteps, forever impacted the wine world. It was "The" turning point in wine fraud history. Basically, that's when it all started.
The 80s, 90s and 2000s: A new era for counterfeiters
Back then, wine bottles were not as protected as they are nowadays and, thus, it was easier for counterfeiters to replicate and duplicate bottles, capsules, labels and even corks. Technologies such as micro-etchings, glass and laser engraving, and other methods of engraving, printing or embossing of serial numbers on the bottle, capsule, label or cork, as well as the use of holograms, invisible ink, special papers and even specific glues, were not as numerous, available and accessible as today and thus were only used by a minority.
Nowadays, all these technologies, with additional security such as QR codes or Prooftag labels, help producers to better authenticate their own bottles and guarantee the genuine provenance of these bottles, giving at the same time peace of mind to consumers on the authenticity of the bottles they buy.
Yet, it might not be enough, as counterfeiting also evolved to get around these technologies. Consequently, antifraud specialists, in partnership with some producers, have now started to use blockchain technology with encrypted data, supposedly providing complete transparency on all transactions, and thus, in theory, hackproof, to authenticate wine bottles' authenticity and provenance.
As per Wikipedia
: "One of the most famous, alleged purveyors of label fraud is wine collector Hardy Rodenstock. In the 1980s and 1990s, Rodenstock hosted a series of high-profile wine-tasting events of old and rare wines from his collection, including many from the 18th and 19th centuries. He invited to these tastings dignitaries, celebrities and internationally acclaimed wine writers and critics such as Jancis Robinson, Robert M. Parker, Jr. and Michael Broadbent who at the time was a director at the London auction house Christie's and considered one of the world's foremost authorities on rare wine."
Therefore, Rudy was not the first wine fraudster and counterfeiter, and he won't be the last, and who knows, he might do it again after his release from prison in 2022. However, on a positive note, his arrest and sentence to 10 years in prison had the merit to open the eyes of the producers, wine merchants and auctioneers to acting and finding solutions to prevent fakes and counterfeits to be sold, especially at auctions, were provenance is not always clear or known.
Counterfeited bottles in auctions
Although security and authentification measures have drastically increased since the 80s and 90s, counterfeited bottles might still be found in auctions as provenance cannot always be verified. Understandably, despite a small amount coming directly from the producers, most wine bottles and cases found in auctions come from private cellars and sellers willing to sell some of their collections.
Consequently, some of these bottles and cases may have been bought directly via producers providing them with small allocations and/or official wine merchants, then left in ideal conditions in a cellar, until they are sold in auctions. These are fine and may not present much of an issue in terms of authentication, provenance and conditions, especially if the seller kept the receipt and/or other proof of the provenance.
However, what about the bottles and cases that were bought through previous auctions and that may have belonged to several owners and may have been around the world a few times?
Those are definitely an issue to begin with, especially the old and rare vintages of top-tier wines and the large formats from particular producers that are highly sought-after for investment and speculation rather than for consumption, as it is not uncommon to buy bottles and cases of wines that were previously sold a few years ago through another auction, from the same auction house or a different one, located on the other side of the planet. Consequently, it is difficult to trace back and verify the authenticity, provenance and more especially condition of these bottles.
It is not uncommon to find specific bottles and cases that have been sold every 2-3 years apart, by different auction houses.
For example, the buyer who bought the one-of-a-kind jeroboam of Romanée-St-Vivant 2017, from Burgundy's rising star Negiciant/producer, Olivier Bernstein, which was auctioned back in 2022, by UK-based fine wine merchant "Cult Wines", with a reserve price of £50,000 (GBP), might keep this bottle for a few years, then resell it a few years for an even higher price. Sold in the UK, it might not be surprising to find it at an auction in France or Switzerland, New York or Hong Kong, a few years later.
This case scenario happens all the time and much more frequently than most people think. However, most buyers do not care about the provenance or condition of the bottle, because their main and only interest is to make a profit out of it, not drinking it.
That's what explains the fact that, still, 10-15 years ago, common practices were to leave all sealed OWC untouched and supposedly in their original conditions, despite the fact of having maybe travelled around the world and being stored in unknown conditions in between.
For younger vintages, if sealed with the original band from the chateau/domaine, auctioneers usually do not cut the band, as there is no real need for it, especially if/when the case comes directly from the producer.
For older and rare vintages, specific large formats and/or specific top-tier producers often targeted by counterfeiters (*), nowadays, most auctioneers tend to break or cut the band/seal and open the case to proceed to the full inspection of each bottle in each case for each lot, to check not only the authenticity of the bottles (verifying the details of the bottle, label and capsule (and even cork, if/when possible), marked with one or several of the various technologies cited above, if/when possible) but also the condition of the bottles by looking at the wine colour, sediments and other things indicating the conditions (e.g. any seepage or leakage, cork pushed out or sucked in, for example, indicating bad storage conditions either in the owner's cellar or during transit, therefore impacting both the wine and its price).
(*) As per the specialists on the subject, the following producers have been identified as the most counterfeited in the world:
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Henri Jayer, Domaine Dujac, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Petrus, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Lafleur, Château Le Pin, Château Latour à Pomerol, Château Rayas, Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage, Sassicaia, Soldera Brunello di Montalcino, Bruno Giacosa Barolo
And, that is the main reason why the auction houses have changed their point of view on opening previously unopened OWC, even if it decreases the value of the case, better be safe than sorry.
On the last note, OWC cases are also usually opened, not only for verification of the authenticity, quality, condition and provenance but also to be photographed for both auction's record purposes and auction houses' catalogue and websites' image production.
Unopened vs Opened Original Wooden Cases comparison table
However, to go back to the original subject and finish this (lengthy) post, and after all the explanation above, I hope that you now have a better understanding of the reason why unopened original wooden cases of wine have more value than opened ones.
Yet, if you still need convincing, here is an "Unopened vs Opened Original Wooden Cases" comparison table (a visual table is better to understand when comparing) including the various reasons why:
Unopened Original Wooden Cases
Opened Original Wooden Cases
We buy straight from the
Chateau/winery or from the official vendors/distributor/wine merchants, therefore
we can prove the provenance and the authenticity of the bottles
Provenance and authenticity
could be hazardous
The history of the cases may not be
Especially when not bought
directly from the Chateau/winery or from the official vendors/distributor/wine
merchants (e.g. auctions)
Unopened OWC means that all bottles come from the same
source and therefore have not been mixed with bottles from other cases and
should present the same quality as kept in the same conditions (T/H)
Bottles could have been mixed from other cases and the
case reconstituted and therefore may present variations
Bottle and wine conditions are pristine
when bought and shipped directly from the Chateau/winery or the official
vendors/distributor/wine merchants as always at constant T/H level
Conditions may have not been
ideal if the case was opened and the bottles may have been checked, removed,
and put back
Unopened OWC is a reassurance for customers in terms of
the provenance, quality, and conditions
Previously opened OWC might / will automatically raise
questions from customers about provenance, quality, conditions, and even
Unopened original wooden cases (OWC) have a higher value
for all the reasons above, and should not be opened for those reasons unless
to check the conditions of the bottles inside, in case of doubt on the
quality of the bottles or to proceed with a full inspection of the
bottles (when/if needed)
Technically, opened original wooden cases (OWC) have a
lesser value for all the reasons above.
That's all folks! Hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. And if you read this sentence, thank you for having read it until the end.
LeDomduVin (a.k.a. Dominique Noël)
To end this post, I added a little text to my revisited "Mona Lisa" painting about natural wines...
Probably the subject of my next post...
|Mona Lisa with a glass of wine and a bottle by |
©LeDomduVin 2020 (V2 - Natural wine)
"This natural wine smells and tastes like shit, but I have to keep smiling for appearance's sake..."
- Mona Lisa, 1503
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Copyright: Unless mentioned otherwise, all texts, visuals, illustrations and pictures ©LeDomduVin 2020