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Why the time is ripe for a punt on the vines

The credit crunch presents an opportunity not only to stock a cellar but to make what could potentially be a very healthy long-term profit at a time when the prospects for many other investments vary from awkward to awful.

The winemaking community tends to throw its hands up in horror at the thought of people using its product as a vehicle for making money rather than savouring alongside a good meal.

Many of its members seem to feel that only they should be accorded the privilege of worshipping at the temple of Mammon as well as that of Bacchus. And worship at the temple of Mammon they surely do, through the use of tactics such as aggressively talking up the quality of sometimes distinctly moderate vintages and then attaching outrageous premiums to the en primeur price.

For newcomers to this market, that is the price they sell at before their wine has even been bottled. If you think that looks suspiciously like a future contract well, it's not far off. And it is a point worth noting when you are bombarded by en primeur offers by wine merchants – who are often similarly sniffy about using wine as an investment vehicle.

There is nothing wrong with this at all, of course. Caveat emptor applies. But if the Bordelais and their friends can make money from their (admittedly divine) product why shouldn't anyone else?

Wine has all the characteristics of a commodity. The top wines come from sharply defined areas and those that make them cannot increase production without compromising on quality. Therefore when demand is strong, prices can rise very quickly, as long as the buyer knows which wines to buy from which vintages. It is just that demand is, well, not very strong at the moment.

Many of the aforementioned merchants have been battling to hold prices but this cannot last forever. For a start, large stocks are likely to come on to the market in the coming months from those unfortunates who have found themselves in need of fast cash thanks to the current economic turmoil.

Another factor weighing on the market is that it is just not the done thing to serve gaudily priced chateaux from Bordeaux in the current climate. It could be seen perhaps as a little tasteless in some quarters. One might think a stiff whisky is more the thing for the current times although a recent article from the US recommended America's increasingly impressive range of craft beers as good – and cheap - alternatives to wine alongside food.

Prices are primed to fall and, indeed, that is what they have been doing. The recent Hospices de Beaune auction in Burgundy (another region with considerable investment potential) saw a 20% fall. The anecdotal evidence from auction houses tells a similar story.

It's not the time to dive in just yet, but in six months to a year's time there should be some very good bargains to be had – bargains that may start to look like steals in a few year's time if the economy starts to show signs of recovery and the wine starts to reach its drinking peak.

And if (perish the thought) the economy continues to be awful, a cellar full of marvellous wines bought relatively cheaply strikes me as an investment worth having. It can be put to good use easing the pain caused by the poor performance of other investments.

Click here to read our feature on investments of passion – from wine to musical instruments

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