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Global Wine Auctions Fall 1 Percent in 2015

A big drop in London and a slide in Hong Kong were buttressed by a 27 percent gain in New York

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: January 27, 2016

Despite some turbulence in local markets, the global wine-auction scene remained stable in 2015, falling a modest 1 percent in value from $348 million in 2014 to $346 million.

The U.S. market was the main driver, as sales in New York gained 27 percent in value over 2014. Despite high lot prices, volume and overall sales value declined in Hong Kong and dipped 14 percent in London and Geneva, according to figures supplied by the major commercial auction houses.

Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby’s Wine, affirmed that in total numbers, 2014 and 2015 were broadly similar. “This year there was a transfer of volume and value from Hong Kong to New York,” Ritchie said. In 2015, Sotheby’s sold a combined total of $60.4 million worth of wine—just 8 percent less than in 2015.

In Hong Kong, the market dropped 4 percent to $98.4 million as the average price per lot, originally $5,935 in 2014, fell 5 percent to $5,584. (All figures are given in U.S. dollars.) Meanwhile, in London, fewer blockbuster consignments led to prices falling 15 percent.

In contrast, the New York market exhibited considerable strength, gaining 27 percent in revenue to reach $109 million. Significant revenues included the two-part sale at Sotheby’s New York of veteran collector Don Stott’s wines, which realized $13.5 million. Adding Chicago and other markets, there was $165 million worth of fine wine on the U.S. auction block in 2015. The average price per lot rose 3 percent to $2,951 in 2015 from $2,887 in 2014.

Among individual auction houses, Acker Merrall & Condit led the pack in worldwide sales, bringing in $69.9 million, followed by Sotheby’s at $60.4, Christie’s at $57.2 and Zachys at $55.5 million. Hart Davis Hart garnered $41.5 million domestically, making it the U.S. sales leader. Their December auction realized $9.6 million—the year’s highest-grossing individual sale.

One noted difference between the 2014 and 2015 auction seasons was an increase in pristine single-cellar and ex-château consignments. In a market still rattled by the proliferation of counterfeit wine, these consignments sold at a premium and allayed concerns about provenance.

Direct sales from top wineries far exceeded their presale estimates. At Sotheby’s Hong Kong in January, Château Mouton-Rothschild’s auction realized $4.1 million, more than double the presale estimate, with 93 percent of the lots selling above their high estimates. One of the sale’s highlights was a nebuchadnezzar (15 liters) of Mouton 2000, which sold for $117,788.

Single-cellar consignment sales remained consistently successful at major auction houses. Acker Merrall & Condit’s Hong Kong and New York auctions of the cellar of renowned importer Martine Saunier (responsible for introducing celebrated properties like Henri Jayer and Domaine Leroy to American connoisseurs) brought $4 million. In a bidding frenzy, a Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1978 magnum soared nearly 200 percent above the high estimate to bring in $83,000.

In May, Sotheby’s New York sold a massive consignment from Burgundy lover Stott for $8.4 million—50 percent above the presale high estimates. The second installment of the Stott collection, held in December, fetched $5.2 million.

In Hong Kong this past September, Zachys offered the final installment of the Graham Lyons collection, which brought in just over $4 million. “Almost all of the 315 lots were traced back to their point of purchase, thanks to Lyons’ meticulous record keeping,” said Santosh Varghese, Zachys wine specialist.

Last year, several auctioneers correctly predicted that classified Bordeaux would enjoy a comeback. “In 2015 we had 11 ‘million-dollar’ brands whose auction sales exceeded $1 million," said Acker CEO John Kapon. "Basically half of the top brands were Bordeaux." Kapon said that Burgundy currently accounts for almost 46 percent of his total sales, compared to Bordeaux at 27 percent.

Paul Hart, CEO of Hart Davis Hart, which conducted a $6.3 million Bordeaux-only sale in October, said the region has long been the cornerstone of his auctions. “We’ve continued to see strong prices in this category, demonstrating that Bordeaux is on the rise,” he said.

Looking ahead, auction-house executives predict the market will be broadly similar, with mature wines selling strongly and demand remaining constant. “Collectors and drinkers will continue to place increased value on condition and sound provenance, and will be prepared to bid aggressively,” said Ritchie of Sotheby’s. Despite China’s economic woes, a body of high-net-worth individuals will likely continue collecting fine wine. Kapon says his Hong Kong business was up significantly in 2015.

Added Per Holmberg, head of Christie’s New York wine department, “If we have a healthy Bordeaux futures campaign, that means a strong demand in the secondary market in 2016.”

2015 year-end auction results

Click here for a full-sized PDF version of this chart.

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