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May 12, 2010

The Grape Escape: Playing the (wine) market

The Dow goes up, NASDAQ goes down, the Greeks riot, and the market plunges. Let’s face it: The stock market can be a scary place to play with your money.

But wine is always appealing. It’s no wonder that just about anyone who gets serious about their wine eventually thinks about hoarding a bunch of fancy bottles as an investment.

You’ve likely read the stories about investors who filled their cellars with fine old Burgundies and the Rothschilds’ Bordeaux and made a killing.

Maybe you’ve even thought about dabbling in this market yourself, figuring that if the deal doesn’t pan out, you can always drink your losses.

But the wine-loving bulls of Wall Street to the contrary, wine as a financial investment is a risky thing. Fine wine is far less predictable than more traditional investment commodities.

What’s more, a traditional investor may keep his portfolio in a safe-deposit box at the bank. Even commodities investors don’t really have to unload 20 tons of pork bellies into the garage.

The would-be wine investor, however, must take possession and keep the property in long-term storage. Temperature-controlled cellaring facilities are critical — a naturally cooled or electric cellar unit capable of storing all the wine at a constant 55 degrees. Even then, a power failure can wipe out your inventory; while a negative review from a major wine critic can impose a paper loss from which you’ll never recover.

My advice? Anyone who views wine as a mere investment would be better advised to get into more traditional markets that hold a more substantial hope for success. Invest in wine simply for your own pleasure, taking your profits in tasting pleasure. That way, you can hardly lose.