Webster’s Dictionary defines provenance as:

  1. Origin, source
  2. The history of ownership of a valued object, work of art or literature.

Provenance is also the most important word in the world of wine collecting. For years, there have been exciting bottles to emerge on the auction scene. From rare bottles of pre-Phylloxera Château Lafite and Château Latour to the much fabled (and controversial) ‘Jefferson Bottles’ to the even mysterious caches of 1920s Petrus that randomly appear, there seems to be no shortage of mythic discoveries. There is one problem that all of these bottles pose, unknown or undocumented provenance.

As many wine enthusiasts are aware, the problem of unknown or questionable provenance has caused an influx of skepticism and lawsuits in recent years. Most notable of these suits involve billionaire William Koch. After Koch learned that he purchased bottles with questionable origins, he undertook a scathing crusade against those who he felt wronged him. This crusade has taken up an heir of being part noble, pursued with the desire to clean up the investment wine arena, and one-part unbridled vengeance.

A positive side-affect has been that collectors globally have been far more careful about the wines they purchase at auction. With the days of the high-flying, reckless spending 1990s now long behind us, collectors are more astute, or at least more protective of the fortunes they are doling out for wine.

More and more, collectors are requiring original documentation be present or closer inspection be allowed pre-auction. In some cases, they even look to vaulting firms, such as Bordeaux Wine Bank, for their purchases as they assure the provenance on their wines. This is significant, especially in an era of increased awareness and skepticism towards rare or high-valued wines.

Provenance is a concept that should not be lost on smaller collectors either. Demand that you know the origins of the wines in your cellar is now an extra layer of accountability that buyers are demanding of sellers. Thus, as a collector, it is near vital that you preserve documents pertaining to your purchases of potential investment wines.

One can only hope that the trend towards demanding impeccable provenance will continue to gain momentum. The effort to eliminate counterfeit wines from the marketplace has become increasingly diligent; however there is still a ways to go. Demanding wines of impeccable provenance is one way that collectors can do their part.

Categories: Wine & Spirits

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