I inherited a Wine Cellar... Now what?
Updated: May 17, 2018
Inheriting a wine cellar or collection can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have any interest in drinking or collecting wine! Here is a quick guide on how to get started.
1. What is my wine worth?
If you have a smartphone, the easiest thing to do is download the “Wine Searcher” app from the App Store or the Google Play Store. Utilizing their “label search” function, it will bring up your camera, and you simply point your phone to the label and it will automatically search for you and return retail values.
Unless you have a paid membership to Wine Searcher, it will not display the lowest retail values, but it will give you a general idea on if it is a $20 bottle or a $200 bottle.
Do not expect that you will be able to sell your wine for the values displayed on Wine Searcher, those are prices from licensed retailers, you will need to sell your bottle(s) for less on the secondary market.
2. Is my wine still drinkable?
Wine does not last forever, white wines in particular. Older bottles must be kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Here are some things to look for:
Is the cork sunken or protruding? If it is, then the wine was either exposed to heat (protruding), or cold (sunken). Anything other than a flush cork position will make it difficult to sell.
What color is the wine? If the wine looks “thin” or “brownish” instead of nice deep red, chances are the wine has turned.
How full is the bottle? We cannot accept any bottles lower than base neck or 3CM, however, a lower fill level does not necessarily mean that the wine has turned or is not sellable. It is normal for older bottles to have a lower fill level because of natural ullage. If the fill level drops to mid or low shoulder, chances are you won’t be able to sell it, unless it is really old and really valuable.
When the fill level is low, it means that there has been some shrinkage in the cork that has allowed air into the bottle and evaporated the wine. The compromised cork will make shipping very difficult, because when the wine is tossed around in a box, the areas where air has gotten in, will most likely allow wine to get out. Finding a local buyer is usually best in this scenario, or wrapping the label with saran wrap, so that if there is seepage in shipping, the label is protected from wine stains.
3. How do I sell my wine?
If you have determined that the wine is no longer drinkable but still is valuable, you may want to try to find a local buyer who would want the bottles to fill out a vertical collection for display purposes. Checking with a high-end local wine store will be your best option here, they may be able to broker a sale between yourself and a collector - they will charge a fee for the service. You cannot list alcohol of any kind on CraigsList or eBay.
If the wine is still drinkable and is valuable, the first thing you need to do is take an inventory of what you have. You will need to note:
size (if other than a standard 750ml bottle).
It is best to take this inventory in a spreadsheet program, such as Excel or Numbers. We have created a template for you to use to get started. If this task is too large for you to take on yourself, check with the employees of a local wine store and see if anyone would be interested in coming to help you with the inventory as a side project. They are experts and will know what condition issues to look for.
When you have completed your inventory, you have several options to sell, as outlined below:
Option A: Selling Through a Traditional Broker
A safe way to sell small to large collections of bottles.
Most brokers do not charge fees.
Shipping costs may not be covered.
Payments can take up to 60 days to be issued.
Most brokers typically cover shipping the bottles to them, but may not cover return shipping if they reject bottles.
Some brokers may leave it to the seller to file a claim with the carrier or may not issue a payment until they settle the claim with the carrier (claims can take anywhere from weeks to months to be settled).
Most brokers will not accept single bottles.
Option B: Selling Through an Auction House
Your bottles could reach higher sale values (though very rarely reach full retail value)
A good option when time-to-sale is not a factor
Auction Houses only provide a sales estimate, not price guarantees
If you change your mind about selling, the process to retrieve your bottle(s) from the auction may be time-consuming and/or may be subject to penalties (non-refundable fees, etc...)
Sales estimate does not include the complex fee structure (be sure to understand your actual net take).
Payment is after the auction closes, and can take up to 90 days or longer to pay. Auction schedules are typically set weeks in advance.
If your bottles don’t sell at auction, you are responsible for the return shipping cost.
Some auction houses cover the shipping expense to send the bottles to them, but many do not. All auction houses will require that you pay for return shipping expenses on any bottles that do not sell.
The auction house may or may not insure your shipment, and also may charge you a fee for insuring your wines at their facility prior to the auction.
Most auction houses will not accept single bottles or smaller collections unless they are of very high value and in pristine condition.
Option C: Selling to individuals (Direct Sale)
Higher resale value (though you'll very rarely get full retail value)
No minimum collection size (individuals will purchase a single bottle)
Be prepared to wait a while for your bottle(s) to sell
Selling online (or locally) can be an involved and time-consuming process, be prepared to field questions about sale and coordination aspects.
Selling directly to individuals is the riskiest option, even if you find a local buyer, namely because of payment scams, shipping, and lack of transit insurance
You cannot sell on eBay unless you have a license and are on their approved list and you cannot list any alcohol on Craigslist.
No safety net as far as payments are concerned; this will be negotiated between you and the buyer. Unless you're using an escrow service, one party is vulnerable to either not receiving the funds, or not receiving the merchandise.
As an individual without a liquor license or an alcohol-approved shipping account, it is not legal for you to ship.
If your collection is very large, you will want to use a temperature controlled freight carrier. There are a limited number of LTL (less than truckload) carriers that will pick up at a residence. You may have to take the wines to a terminal, pack them on a pallet, secure with shrink wrap.
If you ship FedEX or UPS, your bottles are not insured, even if you purchase additional insurance through FedEx or UPS. If there is loss or breakage, they will not pay because you were not supposed to ship alcohol without a license and an alcohol-approved shipping account.
Option D: Selling through Epic Cellars
Fastest, easiest and simplest way to sell your bottle(s).
We make competitive offers.
We cover all shipping expenses (shipping cost, insurance, supplies).
We pay within 24 hours of receipt of your shipment, and most often within a few hours.
We do not charge any fees... ever
We cover all shipping expenses. If bottle(s) are rejected upon receipt, we also cover the return shipping expense to send the bottle(s) back to you.
Your shipments are 100% insured. If the carrier loses or damages a shipment, we pay immediately as if everything were received in good order.
We purchase single bottles as well as very large collections.