During the first two quarters of 2017, the wine-auction market blossomed thanks in large part to a spate of pristine provenance, single-owner sales that sent prices soaring over estimate. A robust stock market also contributed to collector confidence. Six auctions from top houses paint a picture of a market flooded with opportunities and eager wine collectors unafraid to engage in bidding wars to snag the top prize.
Zachys senior international specialist Charles Antin enthuses, "Across the whole industry, pristine provenance is driving prices—which has always been true. It’s just even more so today."
In the first half of 2017, global sales of fine and rare wine at auction (consisting of sales from the U.S., Hong Kong and London markets) totaled $144.7 million, a five percent increase over the same period in 2016, which mustered approximately $138 million. However, U.S. sales totaled only $80.6 million, a drop of four percent from 2016's $84 million when the Sotheby’s $21.9 million sale of the William Koch cellar bolstered the coffers. Hong Kong, where sales rose 32 percent to $51 million, staged a comeback, while London sales dipped from $15.5 million last year to $13.1 million.
With revenues of $24.4 million, Acker Merrall & Condit led the American auction pack, closely followed by Hart Davis Hart at $24.3 million and Zachys at $11.5 million.
Premium Burgundies remained very strong across the board. Currently the market also exhibits a strong balance: Bordeaux has been trending up, particularly strong in mature vintages, and a consensus among auctioneers is that wines from Italy and California have shown significant gains.
Worldwide head of Sotheby's wine division Jamie Ritchie takes a long view on the market's success. "More than ever, we have seen a truly global market, with significant demand coming from every continent and bidding through every available channel (absentee, in the room, on the phone and online)."
A sweeping auction in New York on April 8 featured Acker's second, and likely last, sale from Swiss enophile Wolfgang Grunewald, who initially sold a selection of his wines through the auction house back in 2008. Amid the refined atmosphere of chef Eric Ripert's Le Bernadin Privé, two magnums of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1999 brought $92,625 against an estimate of $55,000 to $75,000 and three magnums of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1996 sold for $80,275, far surpassing the top estimate of $60,000. In total, the auction—which was 100 percent sold—brought in just over $7 million.
Zachys' two-day auction on March 9 and 10 held in conjunction with La Paulée de New York realized $7.9 million. For many collectors, the highlight of the auction was the "Treasures from the Legendary Collection of Robert Caine," which realized $1.7 million, a sum that was 16 percent above the high estimate. Sixty-two lots from white Burgundy producer Domaine J.-F. Coche-Dury realized 28 percent above the high estimate. Examples include two cases of the estate's Meursault Perrières bottling from 1992 and 1996, which realized $39,200 each against estimates of $18,000 to $28,000.
A later Zachys auction on May 19 brought in an additional $4.5 million in sales. In an email to Wine Spectator, Antin shared a particular highlight: "A single magnum of 1961 Haut-Brion, consigned direct from Domaine Clarence Dillon, sold in our May New York auction for $31,850, nearly eight times its pre-auction estimate."
At Sotheby’s in New York on May 20, the third installment of "The Don Stott Cellar: 50 Years of Collecting," brought in $5.2 million, contributing to the final total for the cellar to approximately $19 million. Enviable selections of Burgundy were the main draw, including six bottles of Domaine Georges Roumier Musigny 1971 that realized $85,750 against an estimate of $40,000 to $55,000. California selections did well too: A case of Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard 1974 brought $24,500 against a high estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
Jamie Ritchie told Wine Spectator, "At Sotheby’s' May 20 sale, premium producers such as Domaine Armand Rousseau and Domaine Raveneau realized the highest prices per bottle ever achieved at auction."
At Hart Davis Hart’s auction on June 23 and 24, held at Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning Tru restaurant in Chicago, $6.1 million was brought in against earlier estimates of approximately $3.9 million to $5.9 million. Amid this was a consignment of approximately 130 lots of straight Bourbon and rye whiskey that generated heated bidding in a reflection of the category’s growing popularity. For example, a single bottle of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15 Year Straight Bourbon Whiskey 2016 estimated at $900 to $1,400 was snapped up for $1,553.
But the sale’s showstopper was a highly sought-after three-magnum lot of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1996, which brought $75,000 against an estimate of $50,000 to $75,000.
Christie's auction house experienced a relatively quiet first half of the year, at least, from what could be gleaned in the public eye. But on June 12, Wine Spectator reported that the New York branch of Christie's was partnering with West Coast wine retailer Wally's, which had announced plans to move into the auction market back in 2013. Beginning June 22, the two wine giants produced their first partnered auction in a two-day event that made approximately $5.3 million in total.
Bidding opened for a single-cellar consignment from seasoned Stockholm collector Staffan Hansson. A large offering of Champagne was available, but the top attraction was a lot of six bottles of Jacques Selosse Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut 1990 that fetched $15,925 against an estimate of $9,000 to $14,000. Predictably, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti performed well, but lots from Domaine Leroy were another standout. Six bottles of Domaine Leroy Musigny 1996 estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 sold for $42,875, and a case of Domaine Leroy Richebourg 1995 fetched $36,750, well above estimate.
The next day, the focus shifted to historic Cognacs direct from the collection of the Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 1988 located in Nassau in the Bahamas. One bottle of Barbeito Terrantez Garrafeira Particular 1795 realized $18,375 against an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000, and a bottle of Bisquit Dubouché Cognac 1888 brought $7,350 against a high estimate of $4,000.
After such a robust season, what upcoming events should wine collectors look to in the coming months?
As usual, activity kicks into high gear after Labor Day. Though no information has been revealed about specific contents, the month of September will be buzzing with activity from Acker Merrall (Sept. 9 and 23), Sotheby's (Sept. 9, 20 and 29–30), a two-day event from Hart Davis Hart (Sept.15–16) and Christie's (Sept. 9 and 21). Future activity in the months following, especially by Sotheby's, is expected to grow as the year progresses.
As of now, no news has been released on whether the new Christie's-Wally's partnership will bear fruit with another New York live auction by the end of the year.