What drives a Wine Collector?

Georg Oddner Venice 1957

Recently I read an article in the New York Times about a Brazilian bus magnate who’s buying up all the world’s vinyl records.

This mysterious collector has record shops sending him semi-trailers worth of vinyl then hires interns to “bring logic” to his collection. He has even gone through therapy to try to understand his obsession.

Beyond the money and the status, beyond the need to taste everything and “lick the dust, that is to say, love earthly pleasures” as Pascal wrote, beyond even love for wine – 

Why do some people collect huge cellars of wine and then sell it all?

I am not talking about buying a few cases of en primeur every year. Or those who who sell for financial or space reasons. What I am talking about are collections that include every wine from one vintage, or every vintage of one wine. And more.

The question often crosses my mind as I watch the lots come through Christie’s. Today there is a bottle of Dom Perignon 1985 featured. Five bottles per lot. What happened to the sixth in the pack of six?

Did the sixth bottle smash in transit? Maybe a bottle had been kept aside for someone’s 30th birthday next year? I hope it was accidentally opened by a teenager when the parent’s were away sometime in 1995. At least one bottle was missing, hopefully enjoyed – but that’s a drinker’s point of view, rather than that of a collector.

The most famous recent example is Sir Alex Ferguson selling his wine collection at Christie’s Hong Kong.  But it is when complete cellars are sold at auction, without any extenuating reasons, that intrigue me the most.

When it is not just about collecting wine (or vinyl or butterflies or matchboxes or stamps). It is also about the obsession to possess, to catalogue and to control the world through a collection.

The guilty confession on Collector’s Frenzy from another record collector about why he had a “large, if not huge, record collection.” It does not become about the music anymore, “the album package can be as important as the music pressed into the vinyl.”

Then some sell it all. Just like that.

It may very well be true that for compulsive collectors, as for the Brazilian bus magnate in the New York Times, that “there comes a time when a collection gathers weight — metaphysical, existential.”

When wine is no longer the subject.  It becomes pure object. And all the consequences of that.



Image: Georg Oddner, Venice, 1957