Insuring wine goes down the hatch, not up in smoke

NEW YORK Tue Apr 19, 2011 4:21pm EDT

A Bosnia and Herzegovina bottle of white wine is seen during the Vinitaly wine expo in Verona April 8, 2011. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

A Bosnia and Herzegovina bottle of white wine is seen during the Vinitaly wine expo in Verona April 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - There's a growing market for insuring fine wine as even people who had never thought to insure their liquid assets, or don't even have a cellar, discover they have a valuable commodity.

"There are people who have not thought of insuring and they have been collecting for years," Yannick Daucourt, fine art specialist for XL Insurance, said.

"They do it for the passion, because they like to drink the wine more than to sell it. Then, they suddenly realize that it has risen in value and they show more interest in insuring it."

Prices for wine have risen sharply. Last December a case of 12 bottles of 1982 Lafite with impeccable provenance could be bought at auction for $45,000. By mid-March the price for the Bordeaux was $60,000.

"As a collector you don't even have to have wine," Daucourt said from his office in Zurich. "You can invest in funds. And that's where we, as an insurer, have seen an increase."

Wine investment funds are based primarily in Britain, Europe and Asia, and buy fine wines -- mainly first-growth Bordeaux -- with the intention of selling, not drinking, them.

Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of wines are stored in warehouses at so-called Swiss free ports where taxes are not collected, Daucourt explained.

But there are no such funds in the United States, where most wine collectors find that their homeowner's policy provides some coverage for their bottles.

"For the most part, wine is your stuff. So it's covered under your homeowner's policy. But like everything else, it's subject to the deductible," Chubb Corp's Tim Dadik said.

So if that $500 bottle of 1984 Burgundy breaks on the way to the table and you have a $1,000 deductible, it won't cover the cost.

Breakage accounts for only six percent of claims for wine, said Katja Zigerlig, of Chartis Insurance, which handles fine arts, wine and jewelry insurance for the Private Client Group, which is focused on high net worth individuals.

Her review of claims paid between 2000-2009 involving wine showed that 75 percent were for temperature control malfunctions, power outages and theft.

Zigerlig said that 94 percent of her clients have what she called a blanket policy for their wine collections, which she says works well for the vast majority of collectors, especially if they intend to drink what they acquire over time.

When Zigerlig inspects wine cellars she said it is not about the valuation of the wines, but if the storage method used is vulnerable to loss or putting the wine at risk.

About the only thing the insurers won't cover is fraud.

"There is a lot of fake wine," Daucourt said. "We don't cover it for a number of reasons: we don't know where the collector got his wine and how do you prove it's a fake?"

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