NFTs are coming for your wine cellar

“That first drop sold out in 12 seconds,” says Kristy Keyte, global marketing director at Penfolds. “When we saw that, we thought, ‘How can we do something different? So for the second drop [in January this year] we tied the NFTs to 300 bottles of the 2018 Magill Cellar 3. It sold out in 10 hours, and people are trading them now.

Not every story in this brave new world has such a happy ending. Dave Powell is another top Australian winemaker who has jumped on the NFT bandwagon – with much less success.

NFTs didn’t work for winemaker Dave Powell. “But I got a lot of publicity for the brand out of it.”

Powell is well known as a founder and larger than life winemaker for many years in Torbreck in the Barossa. Torbreck and Powell catapulted to world fame in the late 1990s when they were anointed by the all-powerful American wine critic Robert Parker: the wines became highly collectible and prices soared, fueled by the application for new dot-com millionaires.

The winemaker’s second venture, Powell & Son, launched in 2016 in typical brash style with a $750 single-vineyard shiraz — the same price as his former company’s top wine. Now, after parting ways with his son (differences over winemaking philosophy, Powell says), that business has spun off into a new label, Neldner Road.

I believe people with crypto want the best things in life. There is a market there. I just don’t think NFTs are the answer.

— david powell

In October last year, Dave Powell became the first winemaker to offer an entire vintage – in this case the 2021 harvest, which he describes as the best he’s had in his life – in NFT: 100 barrels from a single vineyard, available for sale on OpenSea.

As of this writing, none of the barrels have been sold.

“Yeah, that didn’t work out,” Powell says. “But I got a lot of publicity for the brand out of it.”

Powell admits that in hindsight, offering so much wine — his entire vintage, in whole-barrel lots — likely worked against him. He had a lot of interest, he said, but people weren’t willing to commit to buying 300 bottles at a time.

“I was screwed with bullshit that I don’t fully understand,” he says, with characteristic candor. “I know how to reach the traditional wine community, but here I was trying to reach the NFT community, and most of them I think have no idea what we wine people are talking about. “

Despite this, Powell believes there is still money to be made in the crypto world.

“A lot of people are making their fortunes with crypto,” he says. “Even with the recent declines in value, that’s not going away. I believe people with crypto will want the best things in life – and there’s this aspirational aspect to wine. There’s a market there if you can reach those people. I just don’t think NFTs are the answer.

Penfolds’ Kristy Keyte sees different future possibilities in this new world.

“We can have fun with that,” she says. “There are no rules and it’s interesting. There’s so much more you can do with NFTs: avatars meeting online in front of a virtual Penfolds cellar door, exploring the vineyard, talking through the wines, metaverse gamification.

Metaverse gamification. I’m sure Peter Gago is Nice To Meet You to the prospect.

NFT du NFT: an unprecedented tasting of Magill Cellar 3

Magill Cellar 3 from Penfolds 2018: a rare wine available in NFT via BlockBar.

When I heard about the 300 bottles of this wine offered in NFT, my first reaction was: I wonder what it is tastes to like. You know, in the real world; in my mouth. So, I asked Penfolds if I could try it. And to my surprise, they very kindly sent me one – a bottle, I mean, not an NFT. Fortunately.

2018 Penfolds Magill Cellar 3 Cabernet Shiraz (Coonawarra/Barossa)
A blend of Cabernet from the Penfolds Block 10 vineyard in Coonawarra and Shiraz from two blocks at Koonunga Hill in the Barossa, this is reminiscent of the classic Penfolds Bin 389 style, but with everything – from the density of color to the sumptuousness of the fruit to the tannins on the palate – dialed in a notch or two, and the oak (traditionally American in the best Penfolds reds, but French here, and not brand new) dialed in a bit. Lots of dark fruit and cassis, some deeply savory notes of shitake and soy, all wrapped up in a structure that’s a little harsh now, but will deliver nice results with age.

Normally at the end of these wine reviews I list a suggested retail price. In this case, of course, I cannot. Wine is only available by purchasing an NFT through BlockBar, where it is, at the time of writing, offered between 0.27 ETH (equivalent to just under $1000) and 100 ETH (an amount staggering $365,320) a bottle.

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