It was no ordinary weekend at Daniel. Wine lovers crowded the Manhattan restaurant to bid at the Wally’s Auctions sale of former Cru restaurant owner Roy Welland’s prestigious collection. With about 350 registered bidders—double the normal turnout—the auction fetched nearly $6.6 million, exceeding its presale high estimate of $5.3 million.
“From the beginning, we knew it was an exciting opportunity and really a once-in-a-generation collection, but to be honest, I think even we are a little blown away by the results,” Julia Gilbert, managing director of Wally’s, told Wine Spectator. The auction house opened less than a year ago.
Welland, a former financial trader and champion bridge player, opened Cru restaurant in 2004, stocking it largely with wines from his personal collection; it earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award in 2005. His passion for Burgundy (which, according to Gilbert, comprises about 70 percent of the consigned collection) led him to purchase a parcel of the Chambertin vineyard and lease it to Domaine Dujac in exchange for wine.
Of selling his collection, Welland told Wine Spectator earlier this year, “It's a little heartbreaking to see it go, but I’m looking forward to buying more wine.” He noted that many of his bottles are drinkable now.
At the auction, a rare offering of 200 lots of Domaine François Raveneau, the famous Chablis producer, sold for $623,000, over a presale high of $403,150. Five cases of Bonnes Mares Domaine G. Roumier 2005 went for $19,200 each. One deep-pocketed bidder snatched up all nine lots of Dujac Fils & Père Chambertin 2005 (the first vintage from Welland’s parcel following his purchase), including six 6-packs of magnums, for a total of $237,600.
Such high prices can be attributed largely to this collection’s pristine provenance: Welland bought much of his wine directly from the domaines. “And case quantities were incredibly appealing,” Gilbert added. “Those 200 lots of Raveneau, much of it in case quantity, is just not likely to appear again.” Especially when it comes to super small-production Burgundy wines, Gilbert continued, “there was a handful of producers where it’s likely the largest concentration of wines ever seen at auction from them.”
“The high demand for Burgundy at auction, and a collection like this, really came together to push Burgundies to astronomic prices,” she observed.
Another boon for the auction was extremely healthy pre-auction bidding online. “It was not uncommon for the estimate to have been blown through as soon as the auctioneer opened the lot,” said Gilbert. Although she said that the vast majority of sales went to live or phone bidders, the Internet provided a great deal of support bidding.
A popular figure among wine and restaurant insiders in New York, Welland stopped by the auction on Friday, greeted with enthusiasm by the crowd. “One thing that was pretty fun, especially for us as New Yorkers, was we had a huge amount of support from the restaurants here,” Gilbert said. “The wine directors from Marea, Eleven Madison Park, the NoMad, Daniel, Per Se, were in the room and bidding actively.”
It’s not over yet: On Nov. 21 and 22, Wally’s Auctions will make its Los Angeles debut with Part II of the Welland collection. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Wally’s, a subsidiary of the L.A.-based retailer of the same name. In fact, the presale estimate for Part II of the sale is higher than it was for Part I. Along with some other high-octane Burgundy lots, from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Armand Rousseau, among others, the L.A. auction will include all of Welland’s California and Bordeaux bottles.
In addition to the two live auctions, selections from the Welland collection are available via online auction, beginning Oct. 3, as well as through the Wally’s retail store.
—With additional reporting by Peter D. Meltzer