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12.10.2008

The Sadness and Irony of a Wine Museum

Meet Michel Chasseuil. He's 67, drives a beat-up old car, never goes on vacation, and is perhaps not unlike so many aging Frenchmen of his generation. He does have one particular thing that makes him somewhat unique, and of great interest to most anyone interested in fine wine, however.

Chasseuil owns what many consider to be the greatest single wine collection in the world: 20,000 bottles of 18th, 19th and 20th century wines from the world's greatest producers, especially those in France. He started off as a serious wine enthusiast and investor, and the thrill of collecting eventually took over, leading him to amass a collection of some of the rarest and most expensive bottles of wine in existence.

But almost none of these wines will ever be tasted, if Chasseuil has his way, and he will never sell any of them. He's looking for funding to create a museum where he can house his collection for the enjoyment of wine lovers everywhere.

And that makes me sad.

There's something quite poignant, not to mention ironic, about a museum full of bottles of wine that no one will ever drink. Wine is not like jewelry, or glassware, or old coins, or art. It is created to be drunk and each bottle of wine is only meaningful if that possibility continues to exist.

I don't object to buying wine for investment purposes because when wine is bought and sold eventually some of it gets consumed. Locking it away forever seems a bit of a crime, really. Why not empty the bottles and keep them in a museum? The bottle is the only part of the wine a visitor would ever get to appreciate anyway.

Economics has created a world where wine can be treated like an treasure instead of the sustenance it was created to be. I can't fault that reality. But I can regret that someone, somewhere is never going to have a truly amazing experience that one of these bottles might offer, even if that person most assuredly would never have been me.

If we're going to worship wine, we should do it in our glasses, not from behind a glass wall. It's meant to be drunk.

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