Wine is a great match for food, for special occasions, for contemplative evenings, but pairing it with blockchain just seems incongruous. Doesn't it?
Not according to trailblazer Dave Powell and his crew (or should that be cru?) at Neldner Road vineyards in Barossa, South Australia. He has put his finest 2021 production up for auction on OpenSea as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Powell's barrels are open to bids at a starting price of 6 ETH (Ethereum) which currently equates to $31 525,13 (26,770 euro).
This represents a first for the wine industry. But why make the foray into NFTs with wine?
NFTs certainly guarantee provenance as they are indelibly registered on a blockchain computer. But realistically -- outside of a few well-documented scandals -- that shouldn't be an enormous hurdle when it comes to investing in wine. So what's the real motivation here? Bringing wine to a new audience?
Euronews caught up with Dave Powell to find out.
Euronews: Are there any other advantages of the wine being auctioned in this way? I assume the world first will garner a lot of attention for one.
Powell: I’m really just putting a modern, crypto-friendly take on the century-old practice worldwide of the Bordeaux En Primeur system.
[Editor's note: En Primeur refers to wine bought while it is still lying in barrels before it has been bottled and put on the market].
Euronews: Introducing wine to new people is always positive for any winemaker, but do you think the sort of people who might spend a few Ether on a barrel of Shiraz are going to cultivate a love of wine or merely have something different in their portfolio?
Powell: Good question and I’m not really sure what their motivation would be. My hope is initially they would wish to broaden their portfolio. However, as I would like to develop a long-term relationship with this community as customers, hopefully this would ignite their interest in fine wine.
Euronews: The art world is certainly moving in the digital direction, but with a piece of art, a buyer will always have ownership of the same token, relating to an unchanging piece of work, whereas wine is made to be drunk, eventually anyway. Do you see this as an obstacle in the Wine/NFT pairing in the future?
Powell: Once again, a question I’m asking myself. However, fine wine does have an ability to age by its very nature and fine wine has a track record of having an investment value. If individuals decide to purchase a barrel, the resulting bottles will be packaged exclusively with their name on it, giving them something only those participating will attain.
Why spend the money on this particular wine?
This is an age-old question. Why would someone spend 5,000 euros on a bottle of Burgundy Chardonnay? The easy answer is 'because they can afford to.' And likewise with the Neldner Road stock, not a huge amount of people will be parting with 31k for a barrel. But wine is for many people more than just an investment. It tells the story of the growing season in that particular place at that particular time. Every year is a new story. It's a captivating process both in the vineyard and in the winery. Wine is alive. A truly great vintage from a truly great winemaker can be transcendent.
Powell elaborates on what made this particular vintage great:
"The 2019 and 2020 harvests were both low yielding due to drier than normal preceding winters and spring and warmer than normal temperatures for the growing seasons. Vines tend to rest up in these types of growing seasons and then when conditions improve, they make up for lost time.
The winter proceeding the 2021 harvest gave us plenty of subsoil moisture and then the milder than average conditions for the growing season enabled the vines to produce not only good quantities but more importantly exceptional quality. We have seen this occur before, however the whole industry here in the Barossa, not just me, feel this been the best season for decades."
But the winemaker sees beyond this gleaming vintage. And what may make it rare and therefore more valuable as an investment, may also be something of a swansong.
With the unfolding of the future effects of global warming, I’m sad to say the confluence of climatic conditions that created this vintage will never be seen again. I’ll be delighted if I’m proven wrong but have been here for 40-plus years and have spoken to many old Barossans who have memories of seasons back twice that long and my conclusions are not uncommon with theirs."
Much like the art market, rarity is a big deal, but Powell's team have a few more tricks up their sleeves to sweeten the deal further.
All NFTs include a digital artwork of the individual barrel head with a personalised brass plaque, the bottling of the wine into the buyer's choice of bottle formats with personalised wine labels, cellaring of course, and the opportunity to work a day with Dave and his team, making Neldner Road wine, with dinner with the team afterwards.
Moreover, if you're affluent enough to spend the crypto equivalent of one million Australian dollars on the NFT stock, you get a visit from Dave himself who will host a dinner party with some of your wine.
According to the team at Neldner Road, the Kraehe Shiraz -- one of the barrels up for NFT purchase -"jumps out of the glass with blueberry and plum fruits, underscored by sensual oak characters and meaty complexity. It shows ground coffee and mocha, fertile earth and dried herbs. The wine stains the palate and develops layers from beginning to finish – it displays blackberry compote and kirsch, before developing into woodsmoke, cured meats and olive through to the finish."
As a description, I'm sold. Now where do I find that 31k?