When you buy a case of pre-arrival wines from a retailer, you probably don’t expect to wait six years for your wine bottles to arrive. That’s what happened to Wine Berserkers forum member Mike Wenzel, who bought pre-arrivals from the now-bankrupt California wine retailer Premier Cru. He explained on the forum that he bought a few bottles of 2008 Pichon Lalande on April 29, 2009. By February of 2015, he still had not received a single Pichon bottle from Premier Cru.
Premier Cru was recently accused of starting a “wine pyramid scheme,” in which customers paid up-front for pre-arrivals, but never received the wine they ordered. Some of the wines customers say they paid for but never received include a $6,000 bottle of Lafite Rothschild and 24 bottles of 2009 Mouton Rothschild, each worth about $800. One plaintiff in the lawsuit against Premier Cru, Ron Talocka, said, “I wish I was in California and had a baseball bat; you can let your imagination go after that.” Talocka says Premier Cru scammed him out of $50,000 worth of wine.
What stories like this prove is that pre-arrival shipments are risky when wine collectors buy from untrustworthy sources who can’t provide estimated delivery times on bottles. You need to be aware of what constitutes a reasonable wait time for pre-arrival wines to ship, and when a retailer might be taking advantage of you.
The Ideal Pre-Arrival Shipment
Pre-arrival shipment times are based on a number of factors, including: the date on which you ordered the pre-arrivals, the time it takes for the winery to prepare bottles for shipment, and how long it takes the retailer to process those bottles in its shipping warehouse. If all goes according to plan, you can expect most pre-arrival bottles to make it to your doorstep within two years of placing your order. Bordeaux wineries usually sell wine futures about two years before the bottles can be shipped to the United States. Many of these wines are still in the barrel when collectors buy the futures. The wine needs time to age in the barrel, then it needs more time for bottling, then more time for bottle aging, then even more time for wineries to adhere to complicated overseas export laws.
How to Research Your Pre-Arrival Shipment
In general, pre-arrival wines take far less time to ship than wine futures, since pre-arrival wines are already bottled. There’s no need to wait for the wine to age in the barrel. To understand how long it might take for your pre-arrival bottles to arrive, you first need to consider how long the winery holds bottles before putting them on the market. For example, DRC wines are famously aged for as long as 20 months in barrels, and sometimes, the wine is held for another year or more after it’s been bottled to ensure quality. If you order DRC either on pre-arrival or in futures, you can expect to wait as long as two years before you’ll see the bottles for yourself.
After you’ve researched how long it takes the winery to ship its bottles out to distributors, you’ll want to research your distributor’s policies on pre-arrivals. Some wine retailers refuse to sell wine bottles that haven’t already been guaranteed to them by the winery. These are the most trustworthy retailers, because you can get proof that your wine retailer “owns” the bottles that you’re going to buy from them. However, many wine retailers will sell pre-arrivals or wine futures without a claim of ownership of the bottles. Never invest in this type of wine retailer; you have no guarantee that the retailer will get the bottles that you’re paying for. In addition, it’s essential to research whether your wine retailer is getting the wine directly from a winery or the winery’s negotiant; don’t invest in wines that go through a middleman, since there’s no guarantee that those wines are actually owned by the middleman or the wine retailer buying from the middleman.
What’s a Reasonable Wait Time?
Most of the time, your wine retailer won’t be able to give you an exact delivery date for your pre-arrival wine to ship, unless that retailer already has the bottles ready to go in its warehouse. Although you won’t get a solid date, you should still ask your retailer when they expect the wines to ship, and regularly check on your bottles for status updates. Good retailers can tell you approximately which season or month the bottles will most likely ship to you, and will keep you updated if there are any unexpected delays.
If you’re buying pre-arrivals of wines that were recently introduced on the market, and that some other retailers already have in-stock, it shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks or a handful of months to get your bottles. If it’s been more than three months, and you still don’t have your bottles, check in with the retailer at least once a week to ask why there’s a holdup, and when they expect the bottles to arrive. Don’t be afraid to pester your retailer if it’s been months since you ordered your wine.
If you’re buying pre-arrivals for wines that are going to be released within the next month, expect the shipping process to take at least six months. It’s a good idea to check in at least once a month with your retailer to see if there have been any delays.
If you’re buying pre-arrivals for wines that are not yet available, and that still have months or years left before being released, you should be ready to wait a year or more for your bottles. That said, it’s important to ask your retailer for a status update once every quarter or so. This holds the retailer accountable for your bottles, and prevents your order from getting lost in the shuffle.
Sometimes pre-arrivals are delayed, and it’s not always the retailer’s fault. Common, acceptable excuses for delayed shipments include: problems on the winery’s end (such as quality control issues or broken bottles), delays due to extreme heat or cold (which prevents bottles from being safely shipped to you) and delays over shipping laws. In general, if the retailer can’t explain why the wine is delayed, you need to demand an explanation or ask that your bottles be expedited.
A Word of Caution
The time it takes for pre-arrivals to ship varies greatly based on the winery, the retailer, and even where the collector lives. If you live in a state that has complex wine shipment laws, you could experience an additional delay that a buyer in another state might not experience. Just because a pre-arrival is delayed for one buyer doesn’t necessarily mean that the same order will be delayed for another buyer; sometimes, buyers get lucky.
A wine forum member named Eric LeVine was one such lucky Premier Cru customer. He says he once bought a bottle of2003 Pegau Cuvee da Capo that, at the time, hadn’t even been bottled. Premier Cru had no ownership guarantee over the wine, since the wine technically didn’t exist yet. Although Premier Cru was later accused by countless wine buyers of pre-arrival fraud, Eric LeVine says he received his Pegau bottle from them within a reasonable time frame, and had no complaints. This was a risky purchase, but it paid off for the buyer.
By contrast, other buyers have invested in pre-arrival wines that seem set in stone, only to have terrible experiences with shipping delays. Wine Spectator’s Eric Arnold says that he once bought two magnums of 2004 Clos des Papes, and the shipping was a nightmare. The wine was already bottled and ready to go, so Arnold says he expected the shipping time to be quick. Instead, he waited almost six months for the bottles to arrive, and by that time, he was no longer excited them. He sent numerous emails to the retailer asking when he would get his wines, and received a long list of conflicting excuses. He explains, “When a wine is listed as ‘pre-arrival,’ it means the retailer ordered the wine, it’s been promised to them and they’ll gladly take your money for it while they wait for it to show up. But you might not see the wine before NASA makes a return trip to the moon.”
Who Should Buy Pre-Arrivals?
Arnold says that pre-arrivals are only beneficial for collectors who can be patient, and who are willing to wait six months or more to get their bottles, or their money, back. Some wines are only available for purchase on pre-arrival. If you choose not to invest in pre-arrivals for these bottles, you risk paying significantly more for them on the secondary market later. Collectors who want to be the first to own certain bottles will find pre-arrivals a good option, but only when they go through a trusted retailer. For most beginning collectors, it’s far safer and simpler to buy wines at auction on the secondary market, forgoing pre-arrivals entirely. These wines have guaranteed delivery dates and clear title exchanges, especially when you go through a trusted website like Vinfolio.
By: Harley Hoffmann
Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.