Monday, July 6, 2020

LeDomduVin: 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 original wooden case (OWC) higher than an opened one? 

The short and most logical answer should be "Yes"! Especially if the unopened case is sealed with the original band from the Chateau/Domaine and/or official Negociants and came directly from the estate via the most ideal door-to-door logistic/shipping solutions (moderate outside temperatures, spring or autumn seasons, temperature controlled, refrigerated truck and/or reefer container, etc.). 

This means that the case and, subsequently, the bottles and the wine inside the case have "normally" not been tampered with. In an ideal world, this means that the bottles, labels and wine inside should be pristine. 

And yet, this would be true only if we did not include all the other factors that could potentially interfere with the case's condition (including bottles and wine) between the moment the wine is released from the property and when you purchase the case. 

Including, but not limited to, provenance, conditions and time of travel, storage conditions, external weather conditions and temperatures between the place of origin and the final destination, all these factors may decrease the case value of a sealed OWC.  

For example, if the OWC case was bought from 2nd hand market, or if the shipping was not done with temperature temperature-controlled truck or container, or any of the other situations or conditions cited above, etc.. If known to the buyer, he or she may not want to buy the wine any longer, and/or may request to inspect the bottles to check the conditions prior to buying them, and/or will surely ask for a discount if he or she really wants to buy them.       

So, the correct answer is "It depends" based on all the factors and conditions cited above, which I will now try to further detail and develop in this post.    

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) have 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 a wine buyer's and collector's eyes, 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 an opened one. As stated above, more especially if sealed with the original band, either from the winery (Château or Domaine), the Négociant, or the official distributor/wine-merchant (e.g. the original band of "JP Moueix", one of the top Bordeaux Negociants, on the picture of the case of Petrus 1999 below). 

In fact, unopened OWC / OCC (if sealed with the original band) can/should/will directly impact both the wine's monetary value and its intrinsic value to you as a buyer (whether moral, historical, sentimental or emotional value). The sight of an unopened OWC of a prestigious wine usually makes it immediately more valuable in the eyes of its owner.        

It is especially true for the top tiers and prestigious Châteaux and Domaines, predominantly from Bordeaux and Burgundy. These usually command a hefty price tag if/when 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 valuable items), 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 in the early 20th 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  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 nectars.  

Domaine de la Romanee Conti OWC with Metallic band  courtesy of
Domaine de la Romanee Conti OWC with Metallic band
courtesy of

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 image below), now bearing the name of the property on it.    

Domaine de la Romanee Conti OWC with plastic band  courtesy of
Domaine de la Romanee Conti OWC with plastic band
courtesy of

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 in the 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 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 ©LeDomduVin 2020
Chateau Cheval Blanc 2012
Carton Box atop the Original Wooden Case
©LeDomduVin 2020

Not sure if Cheval Blanc considered the environmental consequences when they had this idea of adding a carton box to protect their wooden box... Let's just hope the carton box is, at least, made of recycled cartons and/or is 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.

This means 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 enclosing the wooden 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 is, in fact, quite surprising and controversial 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 roughly 72000 bottles of the Grand Vin, packed mostly in cases of 6 bottles (like the one in the picture above) with the original carton box atop the original wooden case... That's a lot of cartons...  (+ about 2000 cases of 12 bottles of the 2nd wine). 

Although cartons produce a lot of waste, on a positive note, they are mostly recyclable and/or easily biodegradable, and yet, it seems a little overzealous to have both, isn't it? 

The roles and importance of the original band 

On the other end, what is not easily recyclable or biodegradable is the plastic (and other synthetic materials) used to fabricate the original bands (those in the pictures above, with the winery or wine-merchant prints on them, and the blank ones with no inscription on them too), that we can see on most OWC cases nowadays.   

The winery's (or wine-merchant) original band has 3 different roles: 
  1. Secure the sealing of the case by 
    • preventing someone from easily opening 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 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)  
  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 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 open 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, untouched and unopened OWC cases aside (just in case) for either storage, investment, ageing purposes and/or special request. Yet, due to lack of space or funds, smaller structures might cut the band and open the cases at some point, as it is easier for them to store and sell by 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 practices 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 on the subject (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 opened, 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 2008 and Rudy Kurniawan's case), 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 authenticity, provenance, sourcing and conditions. 

Thus, ensuring the genuine origin, quality, quantity and pristine conditions of the bottles inside, 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, most Auction Houses did not open and/or necessarily inspect the content (of the unopened or even sealed/banded OWC cases). Consequently, the ownership, the provenance and the storage conditions (the most recent history of the case) represented the sole guarantees of the good conditions of the bottles and the wine inside (before the sale).   
Even though a banded case fetched a little bit more money at auction, back then, documented pristine provenance, ownership, and storage conditions history were usually the most important factors and necessary pieces of information (if /when available and beyond authentication of the wine's identity) when it came to assessing a wine's value at auction. 

Yet, back then, it often happened that Auction houses bought cases of wine only on the good words of their owners, with no documentation whatsoever, occasionally giving an opportunity for cases and wines either fraudulent or in bad condition to be sold at Auctions.  

Bidders and collectors usually paid a higher price for such pristine, untouched, unopened and sealed OWC cases back then (they still do now, if or when they can find such a case... that is, usually younger vintage). 

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 was released from the winery. Even more so if the OWC was banded. 

Before 2008 (roughly), Auction Houses generally agreed that for unopened, sealed, or banded OWC, the band or seal should not be cut, and the case should not be opened - unless there were concerns regarding the condition or origin of the item. In such cases, the case would be opened and fully inspected.  

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 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: the "Rudy Kurniawan" case

This change of attitude (from the Auction Houses) was first triggered around 2008 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 or were only spotted occasionally and sporadically up until the early 2000s, or so it seems, probably due to the lack of knowledge, information and expertise on the subject back then. 

Then, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, it became obvious that high-quality counterfeits and fakes had been around for a while and had been sold at auctions and private sales. This observation was triggered by the case of Domaine Ponsot counterfeited bottles sold at auction by Acker Merall & Condit. 

The story goes that, in 2008, Rudy Kurniawan, a fine wine collector, nicknamed "Dr Conti" for his collection and love for DRC, consigned about 84 bottles supposedly to be from Domaine Ponsot at auction, including a bottle of 1929, which could not have existed as the Domaine only started bottling in 1934. 

Laurent Ponsot (of Domaine Ponsot) flew to New York to ensure that the counterfeited bottles of his family domaine's Clos St Denis, listed in the Acker Merall & Condit auction, would not appear at the auction, and yet... they did. 

Mr Ponsot worked closely with the FBI, which led to the arrest of Rudy Kurniawan on 8 March 2012. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. And the rest is history. Rudy counterfeited many other high-end wines, including DRC. It is said that despite efforts to retrieve them, many of Rudy's counterfeited bottles are still on the market. 

Another of Rudy's victims, Bill Koch, filed a lawsuit against him in 2009, alleging Kurniawan knowingly sold fake bottles to him and other collectors at auction and privately.

If you do not know the story, watch the 2016 movie "Sour Grapes" based on Rudy's case (on Netflix). 

Even if, as a Sommelier and Wine buyer, I have been fighting to prevent counterfeited and fake bottles by doing meticulous inspections and always buying and selling genuine wines with proven authenticity, provenance and conditions, I must admit that it is quite fascinating how Rudy Kurniawan succeeded in doing such a "Tour de force"!

In March 2012, Rudy Kurniawan was arrested for counterfeiting and selling fake wine bottles (for at least 6 years before his arrest). This incident brought to light the issue of counterfeit and fake wines in the auction industry. Auction houses began to inspect all the bottles they sell more carefully to prevent such incidents from happening again. And yet there are still plenty of counterfeited and fake bottles around, as Rudy was only one of many counterfeiters. A very talented one that is, but not the only one, as other groups of counterfeiters have been found, dismantled and imprisoned since then. 

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 sold his counterfeited bottles to his friends, acquaintances, 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 in 2006, which generated 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, Sotheby'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 time for auction houses and the 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 are probably fakes or counterfeits, especially vintages of the 80s and before. If you take Lafite Rothschild, for example, there are probably more bottles in 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 
  • enhancing weak wine (due to weak vintage) with other (unauthorised) grape varieties from warmer climates (i.e. 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 volume/quantity, 
  • adding sugar to increase the alcohol level, 
  • adding wood chips in stainless steel 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 the Appellation of Origin'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, wrote detailed and persuasive notes and reviews about all wines he tasted, consigning them into a newsletter primarily intended for his family, friends and colleagues. He 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) ceased 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 ceased 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" and 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 won't be the last. 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 from being 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 regarding 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 bought through previous auctions 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. Although it was sold in the UK, it might not be surprising to find it at an auction in France, Switzerland, New York or Hong Kong a few years later. 

This case scenario happens constantly 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 that, 10-15 years ago, common practices were to leave all sealed OWC untouched and supposedly in their original conditions, despite having maybe travelled around the world and being stored in unknown conditions in between.  

If younger vintages are 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, etc.

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 case's value, better be safe than sorry.

On the last note, OWC cases are also usually opened to verify the authenticity, quality, condition and provenance and to be photographed for both the auction's record purposes and the auction houses' catalogue and website's 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 you better understand 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 known.

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 not have been ideal if the case was opened, and the bottles may have been checked, removed, and then put back.

Customer's Assurance

Unopened OWC is a reassurance for customers regarding the provenance, quality, and conditions.


Previously opened OWC might / will automatically raise customer questions about provenance, quality, conditions, and even authenticity.




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 thank you for reading it until the end.  

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 😉😁😂👍🍷

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