Are You in Good Hands? Insuring Your Wine Cellar

By / Magazine / December 10th, 2007 / 1

Do you wonder from time to time, Is my 1990 Stag’s Leap Cabernet insured for flood or fire, is my case of 2000 Niagara Brand X Chardonnay worth protecting from thieves?

Well, that thought has crossed my mind, as I’m sure it has many of you. Whether you have 300 bottles, a $12,000 cellar or a special 2,000-bottle $100,000 cellar, the questions remain: should you insure it and how should you insure it?
A friend was lucky enough to have his problem solved in a unique way when he was broken into and most of his wine cellar was stolen — a horrible situation, I know, but take your hands slowly off your eyes and read on. As it turned out, his insurance adjuster was a member of the Opimian Society, and he was naturally both sympathetic and understanding. The claim was settled quickly and fairly.

We may not all be so lucky. The loss of my friend’s cellar and an article I read in an insurance journal led me to Chubb Insurance. Chubb was the first company in Canada to offer insurance specifically designed for serious wine enthusiasts. Offering protection at two levels, “Vintner” and “Sommelier,” Chubb provides basic coverage from theft, breakage, fire, vandalism as well as some off-site storage; the company’s specialty package throws in temperature extremes, humidity fluctuations, vibration and light damage to the insurance mix.

Note, however, that the damage protected under the additional coverage has to be “sudden and accidental.” In other words, if you store your wine cellar in a 103˚C sauna and the wine goes off, tough! The overall cost is based on cellar value: the basic coverage will set you back twenty-five cents per hundred dollars of value, the “Sommelier” costs one dollar per hundred dollars of value. There used to be a $500 deductible but that has now been waived.

Two other interesting items came up during my research into wine-cellar insurance coverage: at one point in time, Chubb was insuring a cellar in BC (they won’t tell me whose) for $10 million; though an international insurer, the company is only offering this kind of coverage in Canada. Lucky us!

As an aside, allow me to quote from the brochure Chubb produced for their brokers explaining the wine market. While discussing premium coverage and protection against light and humidity, the company stressed that humidity is seldom a problem in modern houses and that, in terms of light damage, “most wine collectors would rather eat their young than allow their wine to sit in direct sunlight.” They sure have that right — just ask any serious wine collector.

Now before you run off to insure yourself and fork out $30 for your $12,000 cellar or buy the premium coverage of $1,000 a year for your $100,000 cellar, there are some points you should consider. Are you already insured or do you want to be insured? If the mystery person with the cellar I mentioned above has the deluxe “Sommelier” coverage, and I bet they do, keep in mind that they are paying $100,000 for a year’s protection.

In other words, do wine cellars require specialized insurance in Canada? Aren’t you covered anyway? For the answer to these questions I went to my own home insurer — you should too.

Ask your broker or insurer whether your wine cellar is automatically covered under your home insurance. Note that with many home policies there is no exclusion for wine such as there is for jewellery, stamps or coins. In which case you have as much protection for your wine cellar as you have for your living-room furniture with no separate deductible. Ask and you will find out. My insurance company confirmed that I have sufficient coverage for my $20,000 cellar and just recommended that I make sure the value of the wine is included with the value of the contents of my house when I’m reviewing my policy.

Tips to Save your Collection

  • If you only have $20,000 condo-contents insurance and you have a $20,000 wine cellar, you’re going to be in big trouble when the “big one” hits. Buy your coverage accordingly and ask questions. It’s the only way to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • Make sure your contents insurance is for replacement value — you don’t want to collect 1986 prices for that case of 1980 Ch‚teau Latour you stashed away twenty years ago. Incidentally, most insurers will settle on a cash basis for rare items like this.
  • If you want to get a fair (and speedy) settlement, be sure to have a detailed cellar list tucked away somewhere safe. Your adjuster may not be a sympathetic wine collector or may not trust your memory … and you wouldn’t want to anyway. 
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