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THE GREATER FOOL?

money the greater fool [1]

Attention wine auction buyers! Do I have a deal for you!!

Hello! If you follow wine auctions and the wine auction market, you may have noticed that a case of Henri Jayer Burgundy just sold for an incredible price. Here is the statement from the auction house that recently sold a case of 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux:

“Attendees filled the auction room in downtown Chicago to capacity, competing with absentee bidders from 35 states, and the District of Columbia, as well as Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. The crowd fell silent as a lot of 1990 Vosne-Romanée, Cros Parantoux from Henri Jayer came up for bid. Auction goers watched anxiously as bidders from Hong Kong, Europe and the United States battled for this rare case of wine estimated at $70,000-110,000. The tense bidding ended when a phone bidder won the case for $113,525, with the consignor making a 10,000% return on his investment.”

Yet even this price pales by comparison with the sale in Hong Kong last year of Henri Jayer wines direct from his personal cellar. In that sale, a case of 1985 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux that was packed in wood (historically Henri Jayer wines were packed in cardboard) sold for a staggering $265,147 or well over $20,000 per bottle!

But, this current sale is really amazing as well. And, I can tell you that the seller bought the case of 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux based on the recommendation of the Underground Wineletter! The purchase was made direct from the importer in 1995 and the price was $1210 for the case.

Retrospective-D-J-1981 (1) [2]

The Underground was the first to review the wines of Henri Jayer. The vintage was 1978 and we had glowing reviews on the 1978 Henri Jayer Burgundies in Volume II, Number 3 in December of 1980. In fact, a picture of the 1978 Henri Jayer Richebourg graced the cover of that issue. (To read the issue and the Retrospective Review click here [3]).

Here is what we had to say about the 1978 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux which was the first vintage for Cros Parantoux:

Vosne-Romanée “Cros Parantoux” (Jayer). From a tiny 2 1/2  acre vineyard, this is another of the superb Jayer Burgundies. It has a dark color and an intensely fruity/spicy nose.  With great fruit, depth, and length on the palate, the wine already shows a soft texture backed by firm tannin and acid. Oh, what a wine this will be in 5-7 years (18 1/2)! $38

At that time we had never heard of this vineyard. But, we would soon find out more.

In 1981 we set off to Burgundy where we visited Henri Jayer for the first time and tasted his wines from barrel. Here is part of the conversation we had. We asked how long he and been there? He said his entire life and that his family had been there for generations. They were wine growers and he was the first in the family to make his own wine. He asked us where we had visited? We told him that we had just finished a tasting and lunch at Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC). He was very impressed. We asked if he had ever been there? He said no. We asked if he had ever tasted any of the DRC wines?  And, he again said no. For us, at the time, it seemed a bit strange. After all, DRC is located in the middle of the village just a short distance up the road from where Henri Jayer’s house and winery (underneath the garage) was located. But, in retrospect it wasn’t strange at all as we were to later find out.

The next year we asked at Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC) if they knew Henri Jayer. They said they did not. And we told them about our visit with him and how great we thought his wines were. Then a few years later at DRC, we were asked if we knew the wines of Henri Jayer. We responded that yes, indeed, we did know his wines. Such was the world in those days.

We went back to visit Henri Jayer every year into the 1990s when he retired. Henri was a humble and hard working man. We would always compliment him on his wines and he would just smile, shrug his shoulders and thank us. He also had a great sense of humor and was full of life. Over the years, our visits with Henri Jayer are some of my most memorable times in Burgundy. I will always remember him, his wines, and our visits. Henri Jayer’s style of wine making produced wines that were very pure and wonderfully balanced. And, the fact is that Henri Jayer’s wines were nearly always very easy to taste from barrel (You can follow the tastings of Henri Jayer wines through the Retrospective Reviews of the original Underground issues. The Underground was the only publication reviewing Henri Jayer wines in those days). I marveled at how balanced and drinkable his wines were from barrel even in the mediocre years. And, Henri would always take great pride in the fact that the wines were so accessible young. They were so good that you could drink the wines direct from barrel which we all often did, including Henri!  And, with few exceptions, the wines also drank beautifully right after bottling.

When we went to visit Henri Jayer in 1991 we tasted the 1990s from barrel. Henri Jayer compared 1990 with 1985 except that he felt the 1990s had more concentration. We agreed and thought the 1990s were superb and even better than the 1985s. From Volume XIII, Numbers 1&2 from the early fall of 1991, here is the Underground note on the 1990 Cros Parantoux:

The 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée “Cros-Parantoux”  is medium dark in color and has a deeply perfumed nose of spice, cherries, and berries. It has great, intense deep fruit flavors and is balanced. A great wine, potentially a match for, of perhaps even better, than the superb 1978 from this property.

We scored the 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux Outstanding Potential and noted that there were 175 cases produced.

My observations in drinking the great wines of Henri Jayer over a period of nearly 25 years are that by the time they were 10 years old most had reached full maturity. After that they reached a plateau and many of the wines stayed at this level for another 5-10 years. Then most began to gradually decline. At this point the wines were still lovely, but not as good as they were in the first 10-20 years of their life. Of course there were some exceptions based on the wine and the vintage, but this is my general overview based on the wines beginning with the 1978 vintage. The last time I drank the 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux and the 1985 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux was about 10 years ago. At that time, I felt the wines were nice, but fully mature and wines to drink for maybe another 5-10 years. But, I really felt that they had been better in earlier tastings. At this stage in their life, the wines were described by some as “Millionaire’s Beaujolais”. In my opinion, this was a reasonable assessment. Except that today I would amend the statement to say “Billionaire’s Beaujolais”!

One difference between the 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux and great 1990s such as La Tache is that there is no more Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux. While 1990 La Tache, made in a greater quantity, is still available and new vintages are still being made in the traditional manner. For me, the fact that 1990 La Tache is a better wine than 1990 Cros Parantoux has nothing to do with the prices at auction where La Tache sells for about $4,000 per bottle or about 40% of the 1990 Cros Parantoux price.

1990 JAYER [4]

So what does it mean that a case of 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux sold for nearly $10,000 a bottle? Well that depends. To me, this a price based on rarity and the “dead artist” theory. (Henri Jayer retired in 1996 and transferred ownership of his vineyards to his nephew, Emmanuel Rouget. Henri continued to make a small amount of wine for several years ending in 2001. He passed away in 2006.) Will the buyer drink this wine or is it an investment? No doubt it is probably still a nice wine to drink, albeit, I think, past the prime of life. And, at what point will it no longer be enjoyable? There is no way to know the answer to this question, but my guess is that it should be consumed soon. Wine is not art. It is a consumable. That makes wine a declining asset once it is determined that the wine is fading. And what is the value of the bottle when the wine inside is not good to drink? My answer is, not much. Which brings to mind the purchase of the infamous (and I think fake) bottle of 1787 Lafitte supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. The bottle was purchased at auction in December, 1985 for the astounding (and I believe still a world record) price of $157,000 by Christopher Forbes, the son of the late Malcolm Forbes and a vice-president of Forbes magazine. The bottle was then put on display in the window of the Forbes office building. Then the cork fell in! Oops!! There went 157,000 smackers down the drain. But, even had the cork not fallen in, the purchase price was so outrageous that today I think the bottle would be worth only a fraction of the price paid, if it could be sold at all.

In this sale of the case of 1990 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux, I think the seller will likely get more pleasure and investment return than the buyer. So if you were the lucky seller, loved Burgundy, and had the $133,000 proceeds, what would you buy? I think the money will give more drinking enjoyment and investment return by being recycled into more Burgundies. If I did not already own it, I would buy some well cellared 1990 La Tache which will age beautifully for many more years. And I would include some of the best 1999s, the 2003 DRCs (a vintage which many hard core Burgundy drinkers do not like, but one where DRC produced wines which I believe will be legendary and last for ages), and some of the best 2005s, 2009s, and 2010s. If you are a Burgundy wine drinker or investor, I think this would be a great transfer of the windfall just achieved from the 1990 Cros Parantoux sale. And, if you don’t have a windfall, but just have some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket and want to buy Burgundies, I would still make the same recommendations.

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson