A Case of Separation: Wine Collections and Divorce 

Published on 18 June, 2019 | Andrew Newbury

Although Britons have drunk wine for centuries, it’s arguably only in the last few decades that its consumption has become truly popular across different age and demographic groups.

Buoyed by the kind of range in supermarkets which would once only have been the preserve of specialist shops in years gone by, sales continue to climb.

A study of the international market by the United States Department of Agriculture concluded that the UK, in fact, was second only to the US in terms of wine sold (https://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/UK%20Wine%20Market%20Report%202016_London_United%20Kingdom_2-19-2016.pdf).

Of course, whilst there are many individuals who purely drink wine for social reasons, there are other oenophiles whose greater knowledge of grapes and growers has led them to recognise that wine can be as good for one’s investment portfolio as one’s palate.

One piece of research identified how the values of certain premium wines had increased by 125 per cent over the last decade – outclassing every other single asset class except stocks and shares (https://www.credit-suisse.com/media/assets/corporate/docs/about-us/media/media-release/2018/02/giry-summary-2018.pdf).

As a result, we are seeing it regarded as any other type of asset when it comes to divorcing couples determining how best to divide their assets.

I’ve been telling Steve Doughty, the Daily Mail’s Social Affairs Correspondent, how some three per cent of the divorces which we handled over the course of the last year involved husbands and wives disputing the way in which their collections should be split up (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7147725/The-middle-class-couples-squabble-custody-WINE-cellar-marriage-split.html).

Such cases are less common than rows about about jewellery, cars or even furniture but they are something which we have seen becoming more frequent over the last five years or so.

These deliberations are not only confined to those very wealthy men and women fortunate enough to amass collections of the very finest and most expensive vintages either but spouses who still understand that good wines can be worth a lot of money.

As with other assets too, wine exerts something of an emotional pull. Wives or husbands appreciate that it’s not just cash but time and effort which is invested in collection.

In that sense, wine has become the new vintage car and, just like classic four-wheeled marques, it can create a problem for the courts.

That’s because assessing the exact value of these quite specialised assets can be costly and time-consuming. Value can also be rather subjective and, therefore, represent almost a blind spot when it comes to calculating divorce settlements.

There was a time when divorces which I dealt with involved wine collections without either spouse making any real fuss about it.

Now, though, due to both greater consumption and greater knowledge, it has certainly begun to attract more focus, in much the same way as attention has shifted in previous years to different types of assets once issues about cash and property were resolved.

In precisely the same vein, I’m sure that courts will be just as keen to develop their own knowledge of the topic in order to avoid the prospect of divorce deliberations about wine leaving everyone with a headache.

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