Monday, July 6, 2020

Value of an Original Wooden Case: Unopened vs. Opened


Mona Lisa with a glass of wine and a bottle  revisited by ©LeDomduVin 2020
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 amongst wine buyers and more especially amongst 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 logically (and, in my opinion, will always be): YES 

Unopened "Original Wooden Cases" (OWC) or even "Original Carton" (OC) (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. 

In fact, unopened OWC / OC, (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 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 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 them from anyone (thieves, fraudsters or even counterfeiters) to gently and carefully open the lid prior to 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 decade or two ago, some of these illustrious Châteaux and Domaines were even 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
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.    



Domaine de la Romanee Conti OWC with plastic band  courtesy of PleasureWine.com
Domaine de la Romanee Conti OWC with plastic band
courtesy of PleasureWine.com



Some of Bordeaux Great Growths and other Chateaux have also been banding their precious cases with metallic bands until the end of the last century. Then, replaced it with the plastic or synthetic ones, like on this case of Petrus below, for example, nowadays bearing original bands with the Petrus logo.   



Petrus OWC with plastic bands ©LeDomduVin 2020
Petrus OWC with plastic bands
©LeDomduVin 2020



NB: 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 ©LeDomduVin 2020
Petrus OWC
with Original Négociant Band JP Moueix
©LeDomduVin 2020

    

One may notice that to prevent the band to easily be 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 ©LeDomduVin 2020
Chateau Cheval Blanc 2012
Carton Box atop the Original Wooden Case
©LeDomduVin 2020



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. 

Aside from this negative note of using more wood related product, 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 much 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. Which, 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: 
  1. Secure the sealing of the case by 
    • preventing someone to easily open the lid or bottom part of the OWC case  
  2. Serve as extra protection of the wines, more especially during transit or shipping, by 
    • maintaining the lid tightly closed 
    • preventing someone to mess around with the case (like in 1.) 
    • preventing the case to accidentally come open (in case of an eventual incident occurring at departure or arrival or even during transit)  
  3. And more importantly, ensuring 
    • 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 official appointed vendors, and therefore, the OWC cases might be banded with the winery original band. In turn, as they usually sell goods in large quantities, typically to retailers, or even distributors, they will not cut the original band, as it is proof of the provenance/sourcing of the wines.  

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. But, only a few of them, (more especially the smaller structures), have neither space nor the finance to do so. Hence, they usually, end up cutting the band and opening the cases, at some point, as it is easier for them to 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.  

In fact, Auction Houses policies and opinions, on the matter of cut 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 years ago), the band should be cut/broken and the case open to inspect the content.   


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, as well as 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, prior to 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 fake 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. 

Then, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, it became obvious that high-quality counterfeits and fakes had been around for a little while now. More especially in 2012, when Rudy Kurniawan was arrested for wine fraud, after having sold countless amount of fake and counterfeited bottles of old vintages and large formats of rare and expensive wines (for at least 6 years prior to 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, successfully managed to sell them to acquaintances, bidders and collectors, via some of the world 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's suspicions toward this auction house, right after his arrest in March 2012. 

Yet, other prestigious Auction Houses such as Christie's, Sotheby's and Spectrum Wine Auctions also fell into Rudy's trap and/or denounced the scam and/or add to withdraw some suspicious lots right before the 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 that Rudy was only the tip of the iceberg, as a few other wine fraudsters and counterfeiters were also arrested around the same period of time 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 varieties with the Pinot Noir in Burgundy, or adding Spanish grapes such 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 them, closing their eyes, even if it was against the Appellation's rules.   

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 to his family, friends and colleagues, came to Bordeaux to assess, evaluate and rate the 1982 vintage. 

From that moment on, wine became a luxury good, a commodity, an object of speculation, which would rapidly become sought after by both amateurs and avid wine collectors. And the top tiers Bordeaux and Burgundian wines have never been seen as a beverage to be consumed ever since. Parker's visit and the resulting 1982 vintage ratings he produced for in his newsletter (wine publication) called the "Wine Advocate" was the turning point in wine fraud history. Basically when it all started.     

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 the positive note, his arrest and sentence to 10 years in prison had the merit to open the eyes of the Auctioneers on acting to prevent fakes and counterfeits to be sold at auctions, and in order to do so to change their methods and point of views on cutting the original band and opening unopened OWC.     

That's what explains the fact that, still, 10 years ago, common practices were to leave all sealed OWC untouched and in their original conditions, and that, nowadays, most auctioneers tend to break or cut the band/seal, open the case to proceed to the full inspection of each bottle in each case for each lot.  

As per Christies.....
   
.....

***Work in progress - to be finished soon***
.......


However, it is a common fact that unopened original wooden cases of wine have more value than opened ones, for the following reasons included in this Unopened vs Opened Original Wooden Cases comparison table (a better visual when comparing): 


  

 

Unopened Original Wooden Cases

Opened Original Wooden Cases

Provenance

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

Historic of the cases may not be known

Especially when not bought directly from the Chateau/winery or from the official vendors/distributor/wine merchants (e.g. auctions)

 

Quality

 

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

Conditions

 

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

Customer’s reassurance

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, and conditions, and even authenticity

 

Value

 

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 in order to proceed with a full inspection of the bottles (when/if needed)

 

Technically, opened the original wooden case (OWC) have a lesser value for all the reasons above. 






*** Post in progress - To be finished soon *** 




Thank you, 

Santé! Cheers!

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)
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 




Sources, links and other related topics: 

(*) Permaculture: "Permaculture is a set of design principles centered on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields from regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience." - Wikipedia

Talking about permaculture brings me the idea that one day I will dedicate a post to that eco-friendly type of culture that I love and will extend the post to talk about regenerative culture, which, in my opinion, is the only way to respect and save the environment and preserve the earth for a better future.    
Here is a quick visual (courtesy of General Mills) for you to better understand at one glance the benefits of permaculture and regenerative culture.  


The 6 Core Principles of Regenerative Agriculture - courtesy of General Mills
The 6 Core Principles of Regenerative Agriculture - courtesy of General Mills


But that is the subject of another post...... 

...til next time, be well and be safe, and take good care of yourself and your loved ones. 

LeDom


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Copyright: Unless mentioned otherwise, all texts, visuals, illustrations and pictures ©LeDomduVin 2020