Since the demise of the pyramid-scheming Premier Cru, there have been plenty of cautionary tales about buying wine "pre-arrival". I have friends who lost a great deal of their money, drawn in by the siren's song of a great wine deal, only to be swindled in the end. Most of my readers know that I'm not a wine investor, but rather a collector of wines to drink, preferably with something I cook for my family and friends. But all wine deal-hunting is an investment of sorts, with risks and benefits --the risk of cork taint, the risk of premature oxidation or just a lousy, overpriced bottle. But oh the benefits! There is huge satisfaction opening something amazing that you know you got at a great price.
And then there the pre-arrival. I don't have a lot invested in pre-arrival wines, but I have been steadily buying wines as Futures (wines purchased directly from the winemaker after tasting in the barrel, at a significant discount) and Pre-Arrival for more than 20 years and have had great luck. This is probably due to being more careful, or better prepared about the wines I buy as pre-arrival --and like any good investment, never getting uncomfortably too far out on margin.
I tasted Fred Scherrer's 1997 "Old and Mature Vines" Zinfandel in barrel and bought it as Futures. It gave me great pleasure 20 years ago (and continues to nearly every year since with Scherrer), to hear from Fred what the harvest brought, how he sees the wine, and to help grow his business by giving him money he needs, in advance, for bottling, labeling, shipping, etc. It has always paid off in stocking my cellar with superb, versatile wines, every year. Usually, I finish off the majority of his wines in the first 5 years or so after bottling, but I like to stash a bottle or two behind to see how it ages, which is what I did with the '97 (and a couple earlier years too).
I was rewarded exponentially when I opened the 1997 Scherrer OMV for my friend's 60th birthday celebration this weekend. I wanted to open only 97s and 07s to get a feeling for his 40th and 50th years. The wine is clearly mature, and I would say at it's peak now with a couple more years of life in it. The ripe fruit has now been edged gently aside by mature zin's acidic backbone and has hit a lovely harmonic note. It still has a pinch of that Alexander Valley green flavor, but it's down in the noise being made by the lovely black fruits and terrific aromas. Highly recommended if you can ever find a bottle!
So I'm not telling you to run out and risk your hard earned money on sketchy pre-arrival wines, but again, I've been lucky. I continue to buy a good percentage of my wine from Garagiste and, while I don't get over-extended, I have rarely been disappointed by any of the wines, nor have I ever had any issue with not receiving something I paid for. For sure, I'm telling you that finding a winemaker like Fred Scherrer, whose wines you love, is worth supporting with futures. If you're lucky, waiting for the future may pay off in earnest at table.
I stumbled into the grand opening of the food and wine center, Copia yesterday, in Napa. The property was purchased by the Culinary Arts Institute and it promises to be a great center for wine tastings, food pairing classes, cooking, and food-museum visits. There will be 7 rotating wine tasting tables in the foyer for which you buy tokens, very inexpensively. I hope all my readers take some time to visit. Lots of great food and shopping to do for the foodie in your life next door at Oxbow Public Market as well!