We have been in the wine business all our adult lives, and we know, at least by reputation, all of the major wine brokers in the country. When friends come to us and ask how to find and select a wine broker to work with, this is how we recommend that they do it.
STEP 1: LOOK FOR EXPERIENCE
This is the easiest way to sort the real professionals from the fakers. Just ask: Who has been in the ultra-high-end, fine wine business for an extended period of time? You do not necessarily want to use length of time as a wine broker as the only factor, or even the most important factor, but it should be the first thing you look at. What is their experience in high-end fine wine, both as a wine broker, and before becoming a wine broker?
How do you know someone has enough experience in high-end, fine wine?
The first and most obvious thing to look at is how long they’ve been a successful wine broker. That by itself is a very strong signal. This is because the wine broker business is entirely a relationship and reputation business. If a wine broker can stay in business for a long time, it means they have strong relationships with people and have done well by them. It also means that the broker has a long track record of doing a great job, and their reputation reflects that. Most of our business is by referrals, and the same is true for all good wine brokers.
But even if a wine broker been doing this for a while, you should still check their background. There is not a “right” thing to look for, but the following are the three things that should make you feel more con dent in a wine bro- ker’s experience.
1. Auction House Experience
If a wine broker has worked for one of the top five auction houses, that is a very good sign. These include Hart Davis Hart, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Zachy’s, and Heritage. There are other auction houses; however, other auction houses have made some pretty serious mistakes in checking the provenance of wine. Those five have the best reputations.
What do we mean when we say “serious mistakes”? We mean that some auction houses have been buying and selling and consigning counterfeit wines without really performing the basic level of provenance check, which I nd to be a fatal aw. Just because an auction house has been around for a long period of time, doesn’t necessarily qualify them to be superior. What qualifies them as superior is that they follow the customers’ expectations and have never been flagged for selling counterfeit products.
2. High-End Retail Experience
Someone with experience at a retail house that specializes in investment-grade fine wine is also very good. Some of the best include Morrell & Company, Acker Merrall, Sherry-Lehmann, K&L Wines, Wally’s, Knightsbridge, Schneiders of Capitol Hill, BevMo!, BevMax, and Total Wine & More. There are many others in the country; it would be exhausting to list them all.
What you are looking for is whether the broker has a lot of experience tasting and buying super-high-end, fine wines, and then selling these wines to actual customers. You also want to look at the size of the retail outlet—or, we should say, the volume of high-end wine they sell. Costco sells an incredible volume of wine every year, but virtually none of it is high end or investable wine, so experience as the Costco wine buyer is not relevant to being a wine broker.
Compare that to a small wine store that specializes in wines over $100, has hundreds of repeat clients, and is where wineries and distributors like doing local tastings in that area. Working in a store like this will expose someone to a large amount of high-end wine and elite clientele, and give them experience in the exact skills a wine broker must have.
If someone works at a retail house that moves a lot of high-end wine, he or she becomes an expert in the most important aspect of wine: what people buy, and for what price.
3. Michelin-Star Restaurant Experience
Working for Michelin star-rated restaurants also can expose someone to the requisite experience of tasting and selling super fine wine.
Be careful here, though—not all work at restaurants is the same. If you’re looking for somebody who has worked at a fine wine restaurant, it would be more desirable to have somebody who is a trained sommelier, preferably with an Advanced or Master Sommelier status, or a Master of Wine.
The downfall to hiring a sommelier from a restaurant to pick and choose your wine is that the sommelier may not have worked at the right restaurant, or they are just out to taste wine. Are they going to buy esoteric wines, or are they going to buy wines that will go up in value? Someone who buys wine for public consumption is not always looking for the same things as someone who buys wine as an investment.