Two of the wine-auction market's players are teaming up. Wine Spectator has learned that Christie's, the venerable international auction house, and Wally's, the Los Angeles wine merchant that first jumped into auctions four years ago, will partner on New York auctions. They will host their first joint sale on June 22.
"We've had a strong relationship with Christie's and the Pinault family for a long time," said Christian Navarro, Wally's president and co-owner. France's Pinault family owns the Artemis Group, which bought a majority stake in Christie's in 1998. Navarro's partners, brothers Paul and Maurice Marciano, are cofounders of Guess fashion and have been avid art collectors for years, frequently doing business with Christie's.
New York state law requires wine auctioneers to hold a state wine retail license. For the past five years Christie's has partnered with Columbus Circle Wines. Now it will partner with Wally's, which has a New York license. "Christie's is pleased to be working with Wally's in their capacity as our agency partner for auctions, starting with our upcoming June sales," Scott Torrence, Christie's senior vice president and senior wine specialist, told Wine Spectator. "I have great respect for how Christian and Steve Wallace created one of the finest West Coast wine establishments in the nation. In more recent years, with their entry into wine auctions and now flagship operations in Beverly Hills, Wally's has become a transformative retail model for top-level wine service in the U.S."
Wally's auction operation made a big splash when it launched in late 2013, just a few months after the store was bought by the Marcianos and Navarro, a longtime partner at the store. They quickly hired some of the top names in the auction business and snagged headlines when they conducted two sales of the cellar of Roy Welland, a famed collector and former owner of the restaurant Cru. Navarro told Wine Spectator that auctions would increase the retailer's national profile.
But building an auction house from the ground up proved costly and time consuming. In early 2016, the company put sales on hold and began looking at partnerships. Much of the auction staff was laid off.
Navarro says the Christie's partnership will allow each company to focus on what it excels at. Christie's has decades of experience conducting wine sales in London, New York and, more recently, Hong Kong. They have a large team and a system in place. Wally's has a lengthy client list, both in Los Angeles and beyond. "We can offer them clients," said Navarro. "We can provide them with something they were looking for—fresh energy. They can provide us with global reach."
The Marcianos have been eager to expand Wally's. The company opened a new store in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2015, that also houses a restaurant, and is currently building a third location in Santa Monica. The owners have plans to expand to out-of-state markets, including New York.