Wine - Seeing the World Through the Bottom of a Glass
by dhonig, Fri Apr 04, 2008 at 10:14:05 AM EDT
What can wine tell us about the world? Plenty, it turns out. It is one of civilization's oldest products. At one time it was a necessity, when food was served rotten and water was where you washed and evacuated. Now it is enjoying a resurgence. It is an agricultural product, and a unique one. You see, vineyards have kept records of temperature, yield, and ripeness-dates for centuries, giving us incredibly precise records that tell us reams about the global environment. It is also a luxury item, particularly at the top end. As such, its sale and purchase can tell us volumes about the global economy.
Today, we travel to Hong Kong for a look at the world's economy, through the bottom of a glass.
See this picture here?
That's $78,000.00 dollars worth of wine. Chateau Petrus is the most expensive wine in the world. Sure, there are bottles that have sold for more, but that would be because they were owned by Thomas Jefferson, or sold at a charity auction. Day in and day out, you can't spend more on a bottle of wine than on a bottle of Petrus.
Who, you may ask, can afford this stuff? The answer takes us to Hong Kong. Last week Christie's reported $3.5M in fine wine sales in a two-day auction. Here is what they said:
"On Friday night, we took the temperature of the international fine wine market and the diagnosis was resoundingly healthy, with 99.8% sold by value, 99.4% sold by lot. NYWines Christie's provided the sternest test so far this year of the fine wine auction market with 173 lots of blue-chip Bordeaux largely presented in original wooden cases. The results demonstrate continuing global interest in fine and rare wines sourced from exceptional provenance. On Saturday, we continued with our 635-lot day sale, where we continued to see strong demand both at the top, and in the middle of the market, with 91% of the sale sold by value. In both sales, bidders competed from all four corners of the globe, and we noted particularly strong online Christie's LIVE<sup>TM</sup> participation from Hong Kong on Friday evening. We now look forward to our April 26 First Growth Bordeaux from an Exceptional Private Collection auction in New York."
The night before the auction Bloomberg reported on fine wine sales, particularly noting activity in Hong Kong:
Now there's a rush to Hong Kong, with Bonhams holding its first wine auction there on April 24. The sale by the London and California-based house will focus on big-ticket items prized in Asia -- blue-chip Bordeaux and California cabernets such as Dominus, Opus One and Screaming Eagle.
New York's Acker Merrall & Condit, last year's market leader, will woo collectors in Hong Kong on May 31 with 1,000 lots of stellar vino including an Imperiale (eight regular bottles) of 1982 Chateau Lafite and a case of 1998 Chateau Petrus magnums. The sale is estimated to top $5 million. And did I mention the fancy hard-cover bilingual catalog in shiny gold and red, a lucky color in China?
So what the heck is going on in Hong Kong, and for that matter, all of Asia?
Have you been to China lately? I haven't. But I have talked to people who have, and every one of them tells the same joke, "the national bird of China is the crane."
In 2006 alone, Asia's economic growth added 200,000 people to the millionaires club. The Asian region's superrich (over $30M) also increased 12%, to 17,500. Singapore, a city of 4.5M people, added 11,660 new ones in 2006, for a total of over 66,000. Hong Kong grew to over 86,000.
We are in a world economy. The boom is in Asia, particularly China and India. That boom echoes around the world. When China and India start moving from pedal locomotion to automobiles it means more than just car production, it means more competition for steel, rubber, and oil. It means more pollution, changes in entire cultures (did your great-grandmother live as far from her parents as you do from yours? Why not?). And it means wealth. Huge, gross, enormous, magnificent, absurd, wasteful wealth. It means the center of the world's economy is moving, perhaps has already moved, from Europe and the United States, from Japan, to China and India, with the profits settling into fine wine cellars in Singapore and Hong Kong. Hong Kong has the greatest concentration of Chateau Petrus in the world today.
See what you can see when you look at the world through the bottom of a wine glass?