Add California 50 to Your Wine Investor’s Arsenal

This new index keeps you up to date on California’s five most active labels.

california vineyard Photo: Cassiohabib/Shutterstock

In the world of secondary wine trading, Bordeaux and Burgundy might be the darlings of the investor spotlight, but California has quietly been earning its place on the stage—so much so that Liv-ex, the London firm that tracks the fine wine market, has launched the California 50. Joining Liv-ex’s Bordeaux 500, Fine Wine 50, Burgundy 150, and Italy 100, this new index will track the value fluctuations on the secondary market of California’s five most actively traded labels over the last 10 vintages.

The five are no surprise: Dominus, Opus One, Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, and Ridge Monte Bello. To be fair, two in the lineup—Dominus and Opus One—involve French ownership and have already been part of Liv-ex’s Rest of the World 50, a subset of its broad Fine Wine 1000 index. (A calculator and world wine map come in handy for keeping track of the Liv-ex web of indices!)

But as a stand-alone quintet, the brands in the California 50 tell an optimistic story about both long-term stability and recent gains in the Golden State market. Tracked from the end of 2003, overall returns on the California wines (207 percent) were slightly behind returns on the Bordeaux 500 (220 percent), but in only three of the 14 years did the California 50 dip into negative territory, compared with six negative years for Bordeaux 500. Narrow the snapshot to the last year, and the California wines outperformed Bordeaux—up over 15 percent since July 2017.

These are broad strokes, of course. The value of individual labels—and vintages—in the secondary market can rise and fall on the sword of critics’ scores and other vagaries. That’s the value, of course, in a tracking tool like the California 50—to add to your analysis behind the big question: Buy, sell, or hold?

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