Napa Cabernet, luxury ceramics and NFTs may not be the pairing trio we expected, but it’s officially on its way. California’s Robert Mondavi Winery has partnered with French porcelain producer Maison Bernardaud on three 2019 Cabernet reds from Napa Valley, and you’ll only be able to get a bottle via non-fungible token.
“Each bottle is a sculptural ode to true craftsmanship,” Robert Mondavi Winery (RMW) general manager Charlotte Selles told Wine Spectator via email. “Inspired by our shared values of craftmanship and innovation, together we set out to create spectacular bottles that would be revered as pieces of art in addition to serving as vessels for fine wine.”
Launching Dec. 15, the Robert Mondavi Winery x Bernardaud wines come in Limoges porcelain magnum bottles custom-made by Bernardaud. They’re marked with RMW’s archway-and-belltower logo and the Roman numerals for 1966 (MCMLXVI), the year RMW was founded. It’s an important number for the winery; only 1,966 limited-edition porcelain bottles have been made.
Each of the wines is made by a Napa Cabernet superstar, using grapes from the famed To Kalon Vineyard: Longtime RMW chief winemaker Geneviève Janssens' version is a blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 49 percent Cabernet Franc with a splash of Petit Verdot in a platinum and burgundy bottle, Andy Erickson's Cabernet Sauvignon–dominated blend (89 percent) gets a matte black bottle and Thomas Rivers Brown's 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon has a gold and burgundy vessel.
These are the first wine bottles Bernardaud has made in its 150 years, and they’ve been crafted like objets d’art, crowned with ornamental toppers. RMW and Bernardaud developed several prototypes before producing the final bottles—not an easy task apparently, as each prototype required nearly two weeks of work from 50 specialized artisans. As with the rest of the design, the burgundy hue is custom-made, and is based on the color of RMW’s Cabernet.
These wines weren’t only bottled in porcelain, though. RMW is cellaring them in glass too, and will be opening a bottle of each red over the next 30 years, tasting to see how they stack up against their porcelain counterparts (there are no plans to sell any of the glass-bottled versions, however). Selles says that they hope to discover how porcelain might uniquely age the wines, protecting them better from temperature variations and light exposure.
But you won’t be able to find these Cabernets on retail shelves. Part of a growing trend in the wine market, they’re only available to consumers who’ve first purchased an associated NFT. The RMW x Bernardaud NFTs are priced at $3,500 (either in U.S. dollars or in Ethereum cryptocurrency), and will be available for purchase at nft.robertmondaviwinery.com. The NFTs come from North Carolina artist and data scientist Clay Heaton, who uses an algorithm to randomly generate each as a unique, wine-themed image, a process known as “generative art.”
“NFT collectors and wine collectors thrive on authenticity, traceability and ownership,” said Selles, “so a pairing of the two through this unique offering is a natural progression that offers exciting possibilities and foreshadows the future of collectorship.” Once purchased, consumers can use these NFTs to redeem their porcelain wine bottle, as well as access to luxury wine tastings and insider dibs on future RMW releases. They can also hold, trade or resell their NFTs.
NFTs also serve a practical purpose in thwarting counterfeiters by establishing a system of verifiable ownership: Each bottle features a scannable authentication code that links to the purchasing history of the associated NFT. “Bringing this first-of-its-kind collection to collectors via NFT joins the wine, art and technology worlds together,” said Selles. “We believe this move will revolutionize the world of wine collecting and authentication.” One controversial aspect of the cryptocurrency industry is the monetary system’s deep carbon footprint, and RMW is working with sustainability platform Aerial to monitor and offset the collection’s environmental impact.
The project may also create new wine consumers and collectors. Selles is excited to direct this collection toward both established wine lovers and newcomers. “We absolutely intend to introduce Robert Mondavi Winery wines to consumers around the globe,” she said. “The NFT community is one with a strong appreciation for quality, and we believe some of its members are the future generation of wine collectors.”
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