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Wine AWOL from external storage (What to do?)

Hats off to Marcel and team for a great selection. It’s this time of year that my day often ends with a crumpled and annotated EP brochure dropping onto the floor beside the bed as I weigh and re-weigh my order.

On a less happy note, since we’re talking EP, I’d like to seek the community’s advice about an experience with L&W. I bought a wine EP in 2014 and it was transferred straight to L&W reserves on arrival in the country, since when I’ve been paying storage charges. Last week, I asked for it to be delivered and today they’ve sent me a three-line email saying the wine “cannot be located” and I’ll be refunded the purchase price (no mention of storage charges or replacement costs) but not to worry because the other wine I also asked to be delivered is on its way.

I’m feeling pretty infuriated and have already emailed back to quote their customer service “promise” back at them and say I don’t accept their suggested resolution. But I’m interested to know if anyone else has had experience with wine going astray in merchants’ storage (with L&W or anyone else) and views on what might be a reasonable resolution. Purchase price plus storage costs does not seem sufficient to me (not that they have even offered that) because it does not account for my reasonable expectations over a period of seven years that the wine would be there, to say nothing of breach of trust, inflation etc. Would full replacement cost be a common or reasonable resolution?

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I think you should absolutely demand replacement cost - their website doesn’t explicitly cover this issue, but it does say:

All wines stored with Vinothèque are fully insured. This policy includes coverage against fire, theft, flood and accidental damage, and values are based on a replacement cost at today’s market prices.

Not sure why you should receive less than this because they’ve screwed up and lost your wine!

I say this as a relatively big and now somewhat concerned storage customer of theirs…

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Fortunately it’s never actually happened to me but I’ve always understood that insurance for replacement value is a standard part of storage charges. Of course insurance is always less than it seems, but it would seem only sensible for a merchant to honour the spirit for a single case to preserve goodwill if nothing else.

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Thanks for your reply. That insurance clause seems a bit slippery in this light, since I’d imagine it’s far more likely that they just mislay or lose a case or two than Vinotheque burns down and yet they don’t specify it as a type of loss that’s insured. I’ve asked them to clarify.

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Agree with everything that’s been said. Did you pay the duty and VAT at the time of transfer to reserves? Not sure how L&W operate but I have seen some merchants only insure bonded storage at invoice value whereas unbonded storage is insured for replacement value (I think Wine Society might also do this).

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It was stored in bond – and, wow, I did not know about the invoice/replacement value ruse, which could make a big difference if a wine has been in storage a long time. I guess they are about to take that line with me.

In truth, the replacement value would not be easy to work out, since I can’t see that vintage of the wine available anywhere in the UK. But a L&W client is offering the next vintage for sale on their website so I guess that is the closest, even if those “from a client” prices are often pretty ambitious.

Except L&W does not let you slap any odd price on stuff you want to sell. It needs to be within a relatively narrow range around their assessment of the current market value. So I think stuff for sale ought to be a good indication of their view of what it is worth.

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In the past 12 months I’ve withdrawn perhaps 100 bottles from storage at L&W and every single bottle (some stored there for 4 or 5 years) has been accounted for and delivered undamaged. I’d say that is a pretty good hit rate. I’m sure they will be reasonable about compensation when queried - will be good to hear what transpires.

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Yes same here. Everything I’ve had from L&W so far has turned up on spec. I too would be seeking replacement value if this happened though.

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Likewise I have withdrawn quite a bit over the last year. They even rang me to apologise, ask if I wanted a refund because there were marks on the bottle.

My only problem with L&W is that ‘in stock’ wines can take months to become available for withdrawal even when held in ‘reserves held in the UK’

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I think there can’t be any discussion of not getting full replacement value plus storage costs. I would also make the point very strongly that they should clarify their terms and conditions to reflect this - the potential reputational damage for L&W could be substantial and it would be good to see them sort this out not just to you individually but as a business commitment.
I have been thinking about transferring a large slice of my external wine collection to L&W but will hang back now.

I have experienced this same issue before with another merchant and been refunded at full market value. On another occasion the merchant went out in the market to purchase a case that went missing (missing usually means that there was a discrepancy in stock, i.e. selling 1 cs more than they had).

Another potential headache worth pointing out is that merchants will not take responsibility when you transfer wine into your account from elsewhere and do not specifically instruct them to inspect contents (which incurs a fee). This may be worth considering for high value cases as I have had the experience of a case of 1998 Haut Brion containing only 11 bottles, and because it was received from a different merchant into storage many years ago, there was no way of proving where the theft had happened.

Luckily, these things are very rare indeed, but they do happen and when they do it matters how a merchant deals with them.

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good idea!

This very thing is one of the reasons that I do not store wine any longer than needed with anyone I buy from. It’s safer with me!

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Bob
As you have documentary proof that the wine was delivered to them and stored with them, send them the paper work and then your next question needs to be “what do you mean ‘cannot be located?’ here is my proof that the wine was stored with you?” Please find it and deliver to me. "

Forget their proposals for resolution. Impose yours.

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Thanks all for weighing in. (And for moving this to a separate thread.) Very good to hear your comments and advice. I’ll see how they respond to my email last night and update.

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Today they called me to offer essentially what they’d previously offered: refund of purchase price (seven years ago) but this time including my storage fees, rounded up by £14. Which I immediately declined. I mean, as if I’d suddenly think that was a fair new offer, adding a refund of the storage fees I’d been paying on thin air. So far, so unimpressed.

Anyway, I have learned a few things from the phone call.

  1. They said the most likely explanation for the disappearance was a picking error, with my wine delivered to another customer, who kept schtum about it. Not especially impressed with them transferring the blame onto customers but let’s move on…

  2. Wine with L&W/Vinotheque is stored by wine, not by customer. So your individual wines are kept with the other cases of that wine and your reserves (assuming you have more than one wine) are dispersed all over the warehouse. Prior to this, I’d thought all my wines would be sitting in a neat pile together, but not so. This means that when someone asks for a case of wine X to be delivered, they go to the wine X pile and remove a case. This suggests to me that the longer you wait before withdrawing your case/s, the greater the chance of your exposure to errors, with none left when you come to ask for yours. I put this to them and they said yes, true, but the chances of an error are low. Well, not that low…

  3. I’ve asked for proof that the other (more valuable) wines in my reserves exist and I’m not paying storage on thin air for any of them. This request has been sent to the warehouse but in view of point 2, I’m not sure they’re able to offer much of a guarantee for the future, which is disappointing to say the least.

  4. The L&W/Vinotheque insurance covers damage (including fire, flood etc) but not loss, IE if Vinotheque pull out the case and smash the bottles you are covered. If they lose the case, you are not. I pointed out that there is no difference to the customer whether the wine is dropped on the floor or lost – they’ve still failed to provide what I’ve paid for. This does not seem reasonable to me because the customer is then left relying on L&W goodwill and their own tolerance for negotiating.

I’ve said that my base point for a resolution is full replacement value plus storage fees. I have left it that they are going to go away and have another think about possible resolutions and put some options to me. There are no more stocks of this particular wine at L&W or on winesearcher, so they are going to propose alternatives wines as replacement and/or come up with a number in £. I’m not especially keen to accept an alternative wine but I’m interested to know what they offer.

To be fair to them, they said they wanted to come up with a solution that I was happy with. To be fair to me, they’ve got nowhere near that so far.

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And I would absolutely stand firm if I were you. This is an issue of their making, not yours. It is now down to how they put this matter right. And they should, sharpish. Reputation is obviously very important, as is customer service. Please do keep us posted.

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Stand your ground. Full replacement value is the least they should offer. As customers we put our trust in these companies to store our wine safely and deliver it in the same way. Good luck and please let us all know how it progresses.

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Point 2 is very interesting indeed. Perhaps naively I had assumed where wine was now physical, the number on the cellar card “stock certificate” married up with a case or bottle with the same number (same as a roll number in other storage providers). If it does not, there is a particular concern should L&W go into administration.

I have also got several cases transferred to L&W from elsewhere, which I would assume are stored separately as they are not wines they sell. Equally I have friends who have transferred in mixed cases.

I am aware TWS basically store by wine, but feel more confident in their financial robustness than most other merchants!

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Agree with all points above. I’d deduced that they were storing wines by wine, not by customer, because of the way their storage certificates work and the fact that if you buy brokerage the wine is available to withdraw almost straight away. However I would have expected at least at case level for a barcode on a wine to be linked to an account number at all times. The explanation they’ve given you makes me wonder about splitting my non TWS storage into ‘long storage’ somewhere else and ‘short storage’ with L&W who are the only company offering that level of flexibility.

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