Wine Investment Advice for the Private Investor   

The WIA kitemark (above) clearly identified on a company’s website, letterhead and/or business card together with the company name listed on this website (list of registered members) indicates that it is a member of this association. To be a member the company has subjected itself to an independent audit of its management processes and the directors have agreed to abide by the association’s Code of Practice.

Fine wine can be a rewarding, safe and enjoyable investment when executed properly, but the market is unregulated. Consequently, investors should either look to see if a wine company is a member of this association or undertake their own due diligence.

Wherever you see the WIA kitemark, you can invest with confidence.

The following is designed to act as an additional useful check list to help you protect yourself when dealing with companies that are not members of the WIA:

Delivery

WIA members will have been independently audited to verify that wine orders by customers are properly fulfilled.

When trading with non members it is essential for you to independently confirm that the order has been fulfilled and that delivery has been executed.

The WIA recommends that if you trade with a non-member you should:

  • Confirm the precise storage arrangements for your wine, whether a private warehouse account in your own name, a sub account in your name or an umbrella account (WIA members will not store your wine in a general account)
  • If the wine will be delivered to your own account, contact the warehouse yourself once you have been informed of delivery to confirm that the wine is exactly that which you ordered
  • Due to the complexities of delivery and transfer, the delivery process can take a number of weeks. Ask for the bond rotation numbers of your cases as proof of landing.

En Primeur

Through an en primeur purchase the investor buys wine ‘in the barrel’ before it is bottled and shipped. Care is needed as the company facilitating the purchase cannot physically deliver the wine for up to two years. This opens up the possibility of the firm going out of business in the interim or in the worst case perpetrating a fraud.

WIA members are tested in the audit process to ensure that their en primeur ordering systems are robust.

The WIA recommends that if you deal with a non-member you:

  • take even greater care in your due diligence than you would when buying physical stock. It may take a very long time for a problem to come to light, by which time it will be too late
  • make a diary note of when physical delivery is due and rekindle timely contact with the seller in order to ensure your wine has arrived in bond.

Prices and commission

Prices and commissions can vary substantially. Overpricing can impair potential to realise a profit from an investment.

The WIA does not legislate over members’ pricing or commission policies, so whether you are dealing with a WIA member or not, it is crucial that you satisfy yourself that you are getting a fair deal.

The WIA offers you the following tips:

  • Prices can be easily checked on the internet
  • Make sure that the commission or fee element is transparent so that you can understand the underlying cost of the wine you have been offered. Always check that the price is fair, and consider whether or not commissions seem reasonable
  • Understand the small print. Does the arrangement include storage and insurance? For how long? If not, how much does it cost? Are you free to sell the wine elsewhere, or are you tied to the merchant? Are there any hidden charges?
  • Reputable merchants or brokers will – unless they inform you otherwise – offer you wine in perfect condition in an unbroken OWC (original wooden case). Such benefits will not justify a premium.

High pressure selling techniques

The WIA Code of Practice does not tolerate high pressure selling techniques.

The WIA advice is to terminate the call if you encounter the following:

  • Pressure to commit to a purchase there and then, without reasonable time to consider. Certainly investment grade wines are very rare, but not to the extent that a ‘too good to miss’ deal will expire at the end of the phone call
  • Repeated uninvited phone calls pressuring you for a decision
  • Behaviour, language or coercion of any sort which makes you feel uncomfortable.

In addition, you should:

  • Beware of any company offering you guaranteed profits. The wine market is no different to any other; prices go up, prices go down. A respectable merchant or broker will make it clear that you may not recoup the full amount invested
  • Beware of companies offering you a ‘fast buck’. Spreads and / or commissions render this unlikely, so a realistic outlook is advised
  • The WIA expects members to adhere rigidly to UK cold call regulations. If you are cold called, you have the right to know where the company in question obtained your details, which in turn will enable you to remove them should you wish. You can stop cold calls from UK companies by registering with the Telephone Preference Service at http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/index.html.

Due diligence

If you are considering dealing with a non WIA member, please consider the following straightforward steps.

  • Limited Companies are registered at Companies House. Check the company registration number, registered address and place of registration
  • If in doubt, order a report from Companies House
  • Has the firm filed their accounts on time?
  • Research the company on the internet for signs of customer dissatisfaction
  • How long has the business been in operation?
  • Check that the company actually exists at the published trading address
  • Consider meeting a member of the team at the trading address
  • Contact the bonded warehouse used by the company to ensure accounts are held
  • Always check claims of tax benefits with an accountant or tax specialist.