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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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Comments (13)

Greg wrote:
12.11.08 at 10:41 AM

That is quite silly. If he wants to build a shrine to his wine, at least drink the wine, fill the bottles back up with red water, and then display them. The winemakers who created those wines I would likely be quite dismayed that someone is buying wine with no intention of ever allowing it to be consumed.

Wink Lorch wrote:
12.11.08 at 10:54 AM

Isn't that weird - perhaps we should arrange a storming of his house on 14th July or some other auspicious date? Then we could all help drink the collection.
The other parallel for me are car collections/museums where the cars are never driven - they too are not works of art, however fine or rare they are, they were made to be driven like wine is always made to be drunk.

Wolfy wrote:
12.11.08 at 4:07 PM

Well, I suppose that most of the bottles from 17th and 18th centuries and quite a few from 19th century wouldn't be drinkable anyway. What would be the point in opening a 200-year-old bottle just to discover the obvious?

Wolfy wrote:
12.11.08 at 4:08 PM

Er... I meant 18th, 19th and 20th century of course...

Michael wrote:
12.14.08 at 1:18 PM

Of all people, a Frenchman should know how wrong this is.

Dylan wrote:
12.14.08 at 4:14 PM

To each his own, or in this case, each of 20,000 bottles.

While this goes against what we generally agree is the purpose of wine, this man has created a new purpose for it. He has made wine by the bottle purely a collectible, stuck in its original packaging, and never to be opened. His method speaks to this as a devotion to collection for collection's sake. It's not uncommon for a collector to become consumed by their hobby, purchasing comic books only to never read them, chairs to never to sit in them, and so on. They forget why they started to collect in the first place.

winehiker wrote:
12.14.08 at 5:00 PM

Your last line rings true for me, Alder. And I would add that wine should be shared (worshipped, certainly) with friends, new or old.

Bobby wrote:
12.14.08 at 5:46 PM

Seems to me there is a big empty building in Napa looking for a new host, might be a perfect fit if you have $78 million laying around.

12.14.08 at 7:26 PM

I'll raise my glass to that.

12.15.08 at 6:44 AM

Hi, This story reminds me of a Cinquain poem that is currently on the back label of our 2006 Cinquain Cellars Paso Robles Merlot:
Art form
Behind the glass
It's not untouchable
But meant to be sipped for pleasure
Then gone.
If you're curious, a Cinquain is similar to a haiku, but it is a five line poem with set syllables of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 for each of the lines 1 thru 5.

1WineDude wrote:
12.15.08 at 7:53 AM


A bit like a perfectly-made musical instrument that hangs on a wall and is never played...

Shea wrote:
12.17.08 at 8:07 PM

That's probably one of the more 'retarded' things I have read in a while. I agree with you Alder. However, there is probably some psychology and philosophy involved here - see Walter Benjamin on 'the collector' in his Arcades Project. Any wine collector should read that.

Steve Heineman wrote:
12.20.08 at 7:00 PM

Perhaps Monsieur Chasseuil could have one of the out-of-work con artists from Wall Street sell derivatives gleaned from the value of his collection. Here in Ohio we had a crony of President Bush passing off his coin collection as a "investment opportunity to our Bureau of Workers Compensation. He's serving 18 years now.

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