Flip The Bottle
Making money in wine, long before its time.
By Michael V. Copeland

(Business 2.0) – Buy a few cases of 2001 Charles Shaw, a.k.a. Two-Buck Chuck, and you know what you're getting: an economical way to catch a buzz. But plunk down 10 grand for a few cases of 2004 Chateau Latour Pauillac and you could end up with something much better: double your investment before the wine is even bottled. How? Wine futures, wherein you buy a contract for a given vintage that locks in a price, betting that the value will rise.

To get in the game, seek out a reputable wine dealer—by referral from an oenophile friend or a good local wine shop, since fraud is not uncommon—who has relationships with négociants in the Bordeaux region of France. (Regions in California, Italy, and Australia also sell futures, but for investment purposes Bordeaux's so-called first-growth vineyards are the most sought after and thus create the most active market.) The initial tranche of futures for a given vintage typically starts selling in late spring for wine that will be delivered 18 to 24 months down the road. "With certain vintages you really have to buy in the first couple of days," says Clyde Beffa Jr., a Bordeaux specialist at K&L Wine in Redwood City, Calif. In June, Beffa sold contracts for 2003 Chateau Latour Pauillac for $289 a bottle. By late September they had jumped to $399, buoyed by optimistic wine critics who sipped samples from the barrels. Of course, word of a mediocre year can send prices tumbling, which is why Beffa advises that you always buy futures of a wine you like. "A good wine usually goes up in value," he says. "But if it doesn't, you have a fallback—you can always drink it." — MICHAEL V. COPELAND