Monday, August 17, 2009

Adventures in Wine Smuggling - The Washington Caper Part I

60% of the time, it works every time. Brian Fantana (Anchorman)

The Set Up

I’m a stats guy by trade. So I look at wine in a couple of different ways. I love to drink the noble nectar (as LC so elegantly put it) and it amazes me that grapes can produce so many different flavours. However, this is only half the story. Wine investment and the business of wine intrigues me to no end. Graphs, charts, vintage tables, past performance, future prospects, marketing, and the wine “game” all get my blood racing. So when I found out that I would be going to a biometrics (stats applied to natural resources) conference in Vancouver Washington I was a very happy man. Washington State just so happens to be the second largest producer of wine in the grand ole US of A, and Vancouver WA is right on the border of Oregon which is one of the premier Pinot Noir producers in North America if not the world (things were looking up for HC).

I don’t visit Washington too much and rarely long enough to bring back any quantities of wine. Legally an individual is only allowed to bring 1.5 litres (2 bottles) of wine across the border after spending 48 hrs in the country. But the stars were aligning for this trip. I was heading down with 4 other colleagues (i.e. stats geeks) all of which were willing to help me out by donating their allotment of wine. This meant I had the potential to bring back 10 bottles! Now some may be thinking “what’s the big deal about getting wine in the States, you could get most wines anywhere”. Now this is true in most cases, however for an equivalent French Bordeaux (which LC and I are very interested in for investment) there is sometimes a difference of hundreds of dollars. For example a bottle of 2005 Chateau Palmer goes for about $450 CAD. The same bottle was as cheap as $279 USD when it was available at a big box store across the border.

The potential haul was pretty good. the risks were low, and I had a good crew to help me. The game was a foot.

The Crew

I work with a lot of great people, and I especially enjoy the company of the folks who talk my geek language. Each of the participants in this caper will remain nameless to protect the guilty. As with any great crew each brings something special to the table (although in this case I just wanted their wine allotment) and need to be recognized.

The Hungarian – The technician. This guy could brew wine with a spreadsheet program if it were possible.

Daddy-O – The mediator. Father to six. This guy needs to drink wine.

The Lady – The muscle. Hockey mom and mother to 3 teenage boys.

Slick – The face. Young and talented with looks to boot.

The American Prize

I had recently listened to a Tasting Room with Terry David Mulligan episode that was talking about the results of the Wine Summit in Lake Louise Alberta and there seemed to be a lot of buzz around a wine from the Columbia Valley in Washington called Long-Shadows Pedestal ( It had performed quite well against some high end international wines and I was hoping to get my paws on a couple.

Long Shadows has a very interesting approach to wine making. They bring in wine making consultants from all over the world to make their specialty wine which ultimately makes up their flight. In the case of the Pedestal the creator is acclaimed wine making consultant Michel Rolland.

So now I knew what the winery was all about but I didn’t know the availability and retailers. A quick Google search brought up the Long Shadows Website. I promptly e-mailed the info e-mail and was pleasantly surprised when I received a response the same day by an extremely helpful Dane Narbaitz. After a couple of e-mails I discovered that the Pedestal was available in Vancouver BC ($90 CAD) and also in a few stores close to the resort I was staying at in Vancouver WA ($60 USD). It was obvious that if I purchased a bottle or two in the US as soon as I crossed the border these bottles were potentially worth more.

The French Prizes

As I mentioned before LC and I are really into wine investment. We know that from an investment perspective the French Bordeaux are the money makers. We did some research and were able to come up with a list of Bordeaux that we could potentially make some money with. This list included:

Chateau Clos des Jacobin 2005;

Chateau Leoville Las Cases 2003;

Chateau La Mondotte 2003; and

Chateau Pichon-Lalonde 2005.

I was super excited to get these as they were available in a big box store that could be found anywhere. I found the closest one to our lodge in Vancouver Washington and was ready to make a killing when I brought these over the border by potentially selling them after sitting nicely in the Icon Wines cellar for a couple of years. And heck who knows I might even drink them!

Will HC get the prizes and make it across the border? Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of Adventures in Wine Smuggling.

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