Laying down wines for Godchildren

In 2009 Johnny Ray interviewed Private Cellar’s Amanda Skinner for a piece that he wrote on laying down wine for godchildren and in early 2014 he wrote an article for The Field on the same subject. Google “wine for godchildren” and those two articles feature high on the list, translating into hundreds of cases of fine wine being purchased for lucky young people. These are now being stored in perfect temperature and humidity conditions at Private Cellar’s specialist wine storage Bond, Vinothèque, maturing slowing in anticipation of being handed over to the fortunate owners on their 18th or 21st birthdays in the years and decades to come. Here Amanda gives her insights into buying wine for godchildren and answers the ten most frequently asked questions on the subject.

In the old days it was quite common for godfathers to buy a “pipe” of Port for their godsons. The thought of that – 60 cases or 720 bottles of Port – makes me feel quite liverish but lifestyles were very different then, as was the outlay for the godparent!

Modern godparents are tending to lay down a case of Bordeaux for the Christening and then topping this up each birthday and Christmas. Initially, the cost per case is quite high as you need to buy a wine which is of high enough quality and from a great vintage to last for a minimum of 18 years. As the years go by and the 18th or 21st birthday approaches, godparents will know if their godchild is going to be more interested in selling their stash or drinking it (hopefully with said godparent!) and, armed with that knowledge, we can advise accordingly. Godparents of “drinkers” who have become really interested in wine can branch out and add cases of Red Burgundy or wines from Piedmont or the Rhône which have a tighter drinking window but will often be less expensive and end up creating an interesting selection of wines for drinking over a period of years. We don’t have a specific “product” for our godparents – our approach is much more bespoke and tailored to your budget and your intended wishes for your godchild.

Those who want to keep the collection geared towards selling it eventually will stick to highly rated Bordeaux from the top vintages. It is not uncommon for godchildren to come to us when they are in their twenties and ask us to sell a case of their fine wine and then use the proceeds to buy a larger number of cases of good but not grand wine which they can enjoy with their friends without feeling queasy as they watch hundreds of pounds worth of their precious wine going down less than discriminating throats.

We do still lay down Port for godchildren and the recent release of the very great 2011 vintage (the Port Houses unanimously “declared” their wines which only happens in spectacularly good years) resulted in a flurry of orders for children born in that year. Port does appreciate in value but it’s a drink which is less in demand than top Red Bordeaux. On the other hand, it has the advantage of taking longer to mature so whilst its appreciation is much slower in comparison to Bordeaux, it is the perfect gift for a godchild who might eventually drink the wine as there is no concern that it will “go over” before they come of age.

If a wine collection sounds like the sort of present that you would like to give to your godchildren then do get in touch. Here are ten of the most frequently asked questions but if you would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to e-mail amanda@privatecellar.co.uk or telephone Amanda on 01353 721 608.

The Top Ten FAQs about laying down wine for Godchildren

1.    Can I lay down single bottles for my godchild?
The simple answer is no, if you are planning to build a collection for your very young godchild of wines which will potentially go up in value. We would always recommend that you buy a case (which can be 6 or 12 bottles) of wine in its OWC (original wooden case) and that it remains In Bond so that its provenance can be assured to the next owner, if the wine is to be sold. However, if your godchild is closer to their 18th or 21st birthday as opposed to being very young when you start to buy wine for them, you might like to buy some larger bottles: magnums, double magnums or even imperials (the equivalent of 8 bottles in one).

However, we do have a service which works well for busy godparents who don’t want to have to slog around a toy shop or give an iTunes or Amazon voucher for birthdays and who have an annual “budget” in mind, in that they invest in a case for their godchild and then “hand over” a bottle or two each year.  In this scheme, you would buy a case of 12 bottles in its OWC up front and decide how many bottles you will give your godchild each birthday and / or Christmas and we then write to them on subsequent birthdays or at Christmas to say that you have “added” a bottle to their reserve. If, for example, you gave one bottle for their birthday and one bottle for Christmas, we would then prompt you after six years to buy another case and so it continues.

2.    Do we have to store the wine with you at your Bond?
You do not have to but we strongly recommend that if you intend to build up a collection of wine which your godchild might sell, you leave the wine In Bond, stored under perfect conditions which act as a guarantee of provenance and storage during the wine’s lifetime and allows it to be sold internationally. If Duty and VAT are paid this tax cannot be recovered; i.e. the value of the wine In Bond will be the same as the value of the wine Duty Paid.

3.    Will my godchild end up with a valuable asset?
At the beginning of my career, I remember a family friend asking me to sell his large format bottles (4.5 litre Jeroboams and 6 litre Imperials) of 1970 First Growths, the proceeds of which he used to pay his sons’ school fees. Historically, people have bought more wine than they ever intend to drink with a view to selling some of it to finance future vintages and, over a life time, drinking a large proportion of their wine financed by profit from wine they have sold. Godchildren who are now 18, whose godparents had the foresight to start their collections from 1996 – and who were well advised by their merchant – are potentially sitting pretty with a nice selection of 1996, 2000 and 2005 vintage Bordeaux. In 1997, a 1996 Château Léoville Lascases, for example, would have cost around £700 per case of 12. Today, the lucky recipient could sell it for more than £1,800. Not a bad nest egg to put towards a gap year or a new car. However, ex-château prices in the top vintages have increased a great deal since the 1990s and the rate of appreciation for recent vintages has been slow or non-existent. As with all commodities, values can go up as well as down and no guarantees can be given about returns.

4.    Why are you currently recommending 2010 Bordeaux?
Because it is a classic vintage with the structure to ensure that, at the top level, the wines will last for at least twenty years or more and prices today compared with release in 2011 are, in the main, not dissimilar.

5.    How much is storage and insurance?
Our current rate is £10.50* plus VAT per case of 12 bottles (half for a case of 6 bottles or individual large format bottles). That covers rent and insurance at replacement market value plus 25% to allow for appreciation during the year.

6.    What does “In Bond” mean?
It effectively means “before tax” in that you are paying for a wine which is shipped to the UK (or where the shipping cost is included in the price if the wine is still lying overseas) but where UK Duty (currently £25.01 + VAT per 9 litres*) and UK VAT (currently 20% *) have not been paid on the wine. A wine can remain In Bond in a UK Bonded warehouse and wines can be traded and exported In Bond. If a wine is removed from Bond and delivered, Duty and VAT become payable at current market rates prior to delivery being made. The VAT is calculated on the original cost price, not the current market value.

7.    How do you decide when a vintage is of “investment” potential?
In the case of Bordeaux, the new vintage is released for tasting and assessment during the spring following the harvest. At that point we merchants and all the global wine critics descend on Bordeaux and make our judgments. Private Cellar’s buying is led by Master of Wine Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler who has been assessing young Bordeaux wine for over twenty vintages. Prices are released between April and July and we recommend purchase, or not, depending on our findings at the tasting and the price at which the châteaux release their wine. The wine critics rate the wines and publish their views. Since the early 1980s Robert Parker has become an increasingly powerful player in the world of fine wine and his scores in The Wine Advocate can make or break a wine’s “performance”. Whether you agree with his assessments or not (and there are constant and hot international debates about each and every one of his pronouncements) if you are looking to make profits out of wine, you cannot ignore him – his scores have impacted on the market over the past forty years.

8.    What is the minimum spend?
If you are looking at buying Bordeaux for a young godchild, it needs to be of the quality to last for a minimum of twenty years and you are looking at a minimum spend of around £500. If you have a smaller budget, you could buy a 6 x 75cl case (not always available for all Bordeaux unless bought en primeur) or you could buy a 6 x 75cl case of Port or a trio of bottles of Port from a good vintage.

9.    My god-daughter is in her early teens, what do you recommend so that she has a selection of delicious wines to drink when she is 21?
You have more flexibility with a requirement for a ten year drinking window and an opportunity to create a selection of wines of different styles and from different countries. Currently we would recommend 2010 Bordeaux and Red Burgundy, 2007 Sauternes or Barsac which will last for a long time, 2010 Rhônes from Cornas and Châteauneuf, 2007 Barolo Riserva and single vineyard Barbaresco, 2004 Rioja Reserva, 2006 Sassicaia and 2010 Ornellaia from Tuscany and 2011 Port.

10.    Can my godchild visit their wine?
Yes, by appointment. It would not be appropriate to have a minor in a Bond where wine is stored but when they are 18 or over it is easy to arrange, with notice. We store their wine in their name in our Private Cellar Reserves LLP account, totally separate from our trading stock and each case has a unique rotation number attached to it. This number is logged on our computer system and also the Bond’s system, alongside their customer reference to identify unambiguous ownership. To view the wine we would arrange an appointment and give the Bond a list of your godchild’s wines and their rotation numbers and one of the Vinothèque team would accompany them to view each of the cases. We store and manage over 15,000 cases of wine on behalf of our clients and it’s quite an impressive sight.

* Prices are correct at the time of going to press. For current rates, please visit our wine storage page.

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