Sour Grapes

What Tom Petters’s wine collection reveals

Wine cellars sound fancy, like they’re full of money. Unless, that is, you’re Tom Petters, the alleged Ponzi-scheme mastermind.

Among the documents recently released as part of Petters’s case is a detailed inventory of the wine cellars at the disgraced businessman’s homes in Wayzata and Manalpan, Florida. No doubt, investigators hoped to find assets to convert to cash. But Petters’s wine cellar isn’t full of money—it’s full of groceries.

There are two sorts of wine in the world. Wine that appreciates in value as it ages, and wine that you better drink with dinner before it goes bad. Too bad for Petters’s alleged victims: About 90 percent of his cellar consists of the latter.

Sure, there are a handful of bottles worth something—two bottles of 1995 Tignanello, (worth about $150 each), a bottle of Opus One Cabernet Sauvignon, and a couple bottles of Dom Perignon. But those selections are vastly outnumbered by the ho-hum stuff, like the 10 bottles of 2005 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir or the dozen bottles of 2005 Ca Montini Pinot Grigio. With all the fresh little whites in this cellar, in fact, Petters’s wine is rapidly heading toward undrinkability.

Petters’s cellar seems like a wine collector’s version of a Philadelphia bankroll, where the pricey bottles were used to distract people from noticing the pedestrian innards. Or perhaps all the big-name bottles were gifts from people who didn’t realize their buddy’s million-dollar cellar was mostly stocked with Black Swan Chardonnay.

Either way, Petters’s victims might want to think about buying themselves some fruit—the only way they’re getting satisfaction from this collection is to make a batch of sangria.