Penfolds Grange – rich wine, poor investment

TWE has pushed the price so high you’ll never get your money back

A couple of years ago, the Brisbane Times wrote that Grange had ‘enjoyed such success that it became an investors’ darling and, among international connoisseurs, Australia’s most famous wine … Unveiling the latest vintage on Thursday, Peter Jago (sic), Penfolds chief winemaker, said: ‘’Isn’t it nice to know that should you not drink it [Grange], that it’s sitting somewhere in a cellar or in a friend’s cellar and it’s gaining value. And that’s a wonderful thing.” ‘

These are curious times when winemakers become investment advisors. The notion that Grange appreciates in value over time is a myth. Here’s the advice I gave in a blog post on Costco selling Grange at deep discounts: Never buy Grange at the time of its release. Why not? Because you can buy virtually any vintage of Grange, back to the early seventies, for less than the current retail price.

Except for exceptional and rare vintages,’ auctioneer Mark Wickman tells us, ‘most Grange sells between $300 and $500 and, yes, that is less than you pay for it on release.’

Squeezing the grand old red for the last drop

The simple fact is that TWE has been pushing the price of Grange so high that the brand can’t sustain it any longer. Check the current auction prices for Grange here. Despite these inconvenient figures, Penfolds has cranked up the price of the 2008 Grange by $160 to $785. In 2013, the company had planned a $60 increase to $685 but, following a perfect 100 point score from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Penfolds decided to squeeze even harder.

Penfolds intends to keep that price up there, regardless of the vintage or the auction prices. That much was clear when they upped the price by $60 for the 2007 the year before, one of the least Granges in a long time. ‘Such is the demand for Penfolds wine from China,’ the Australian reported, ‘a source at the company said the city of Shanghai alone would buy the entire production of Grange unless its allocation was restricted.’

Last year, they released the 2009, another Grange of no great distinction. The $80 St Henri released at the same time was a better wine, said the reviewers. The old St Henri received raves and 100 points from most everyone, while the super special $1800 Bin 170 Block 3C had to make do with 97 and 98 (even the ever-generous James Halliday wouldn’t budge beyond that).

Yet another slap in the face of loyal retailers

A spokesman for Penfolds told the Australian that the 100 point score from the Wine Advocate for the 2008 Grange had driven demand up to unprecedented heights, and TWE was quick to squeeze more profits out of the old name. ‘Given that our supply of these Icon and Luxury wines remains incredibly limited,’ said a Penfolds’ spokesman, ‘we have increased our prices. We informed our customers late last week.’

The Financial Review reported that this  was ‘ … the first time since 1974 that Perth’s Grand Cru Wineshop has refused its allocation of the sought-after Shiraz blend, which will be released by Penfolds on May 2. Vince Salpietro told AFR that Penfolds had raised the wholesale price of Grange  by 30% and had withdrawn Bin 707 from retail sales, giving restaurants and bars preference.

‘If that is not blatant profiteering, I do not know what is,’ Salpietro told AFR. ‘We are Perth’s oldest family owned liquor retailer and we will turn our backs on Penfolds entirely.’ The year before, wine merchants complained just as vocally about  a slap in the face’ when Penfolds tightened up the price screws on the basic bin reds.

707 isn’t a good investment either

Sought-after and limited it may be, but Bin 707 isn’t setting records on the auction scene, selling mostly for  just over $200 a bottle at Wickman’s Fine Wine Auctions, right back to the 1986. If you paid $190 for your 707 a few years ago, you won’t be impressed with the ROI. If you paid $350 for yours last year, you’ll lose serious money.

Of course, if you bought Grange and 707 decades ago at the good old prices, you’ll get more than your money back. The 1976 was the first Grange to be priced over $20 in 1981. Today you can buy it for $540 – $700 a bottle, so why on earth would you buy the 2008 for almost $100 more? The 1976 scored 100 points as well, and it’s ready to drink.

I was lucky enough to share a bottle of the 1976 with friends a couple of years ago, and a bottle of the 1996 which you can pick up at auction for between $450 and $600. The 1976 is a perfect Grange, and better than any Grange made since in my book. Today’s Granges are highly polished artefacts, much higher in alcohol and blended from very different sources than the older wines. Penfolds can hype its precious wares all it wants, but these are the facts.

Kim

    • tarija

      Good article. It surprises me that so many people think that wine is a good investment. Probably the only way to consistently make money is to have the inside word from one of the influential wine writers, and then being able to purchase in case quantities. Recent examples have been 4 Acres (Gary Walsh), Clonakilla SV 2007, Yabby Lake Roc Shiraz (5 years ago – Halliday); overseas, Parker and Bordeaux. Supply gets swallowed up, or retailers adjust prices, after good reviews come out.

      Re. “discount games” with Grange – I don’t think TWE cares that much about the discounting at release. It’s only for a short while that the chains sell at break even, and then prices revert to what the market will take. It gives the wines good publicity as well. At the end of the day, a bottle of Grange still only costs $25-30 to make, irrespective of whether it has an RRP of $650 or $750…TWE are still making a handsome profit out of the “Grange” brand.

      • briard13

        No disagreement there, except that as a marketing dude I think discounting damages brands.

        Kim