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What Drives Collectible Wine Prices Up and Up?

Fine Wine Demand Curve - as wine is consumed prices go up - sell wine guide

When looking over products that were around in the 50s and 60s it’s easy to be astounded that a burger could cost a few cents and that you could buy a house for a few thousand dollars. Prices going up are a fact of life but the appreciation of fine wine seems to have surpassed most other products.

A 1959 price list from a Houston wine shop lists the 1947 Cheval Blanc at $14.95 per bottle (adjusted for inflation it’s $123) – today it costs about $20,000. A 2010 Cheval Blanc costs $1,200.

What are the economical drivers for such prices?

Top fine wine can be a collectible item because it lasts for a long time, its perceived quality (taste) gets better and it inherently becomes scarcer with every year that passes.

Scarcity value is the driving force for many collectible items. If diamonds were abundant then they wouldn’t cost much, same thing for vintage sports cars and art. Obviously the item must be desired but it also needs to scarce.

The world’s top wineries that make the most coveted wine make a small quantity of that wine every vintage, which means that it’s not generic. A vintage 2010 Chateau Petrus can only be made once, even Petrus can’t make more 2010 Petrus. So when a fine wine hits the market it’s supply is fixed and cannot increase to meet heightened demand (the way most products act).

Unlike art, watches and sports cars, wine is a consumable; people actually drink it so the amount of supply of each fine wine diminishes every year (because of consumption). If the demand curve stays the same the price can only go up?

Theoretically every wine has a fixed supply but that scarcity value effect only works if there’s a specific demand for that specific wine or class of wine (a Premier Cru wine for example). That’s why the collectible market is so fixated on the top fine wine.

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