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Liquor Monopoly Debuts Fine-Wine Auctions in Ontario

The Canadian province previously allowed only charity wine auctions; this government-run event will be the first commercial sale.

Konrad Ejbich
Posted: October 7, 2002

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario will conduct its first-ever commercial wine auction in Toronto on Nov. 9 and 10. The inaugural sale -- containing almost 1,400 lots, with an estimated value of CAN$2 million (US$1.4 million) -- is heavily weighted with top wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The LCBO, a government-run monopoly, controls all sales of wine and spirits in the Canadian province of Ontario. With annual sales of CAN$2.7 billion (US$1.7 billion), it is one of the biggest individual wine buyers in the world.

Although the province has seen numerous wine auctions in the past, all were conducted on behalf of registered charities, and rules required that collectors donate their wine to the charitable organization in exchange for a tax receipt. The LCBO auction presents the first opportunity for wine collectors in Ontario to sell their treasured bottles in a commercial marketplace.

"We felt this was the right time because the market in Ontario has changed significantly," said Barry O'Brien, director of corporate affairs for the LCBO. "Interest in fine wine has never been higher."

One of the auction's highlights is a complete vertical of Château Mouton-Rothschild from 1945 to 1999, estimated at CAN$35,000 to CAN$45,000 (US$22,000 to US$28,000). The vertical includes both versions of the 1978 Riopelle label and both renditions of the controversial 1993 Balthus label, featuring a nude girl. (The château printed a blank version after the label, which had initially been approved by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, stirred significant opposition.)

Partial verticals include Opus One, Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Dunn Howell Mountain, Ridge Geyserville, Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, Sassicaia, Tignanello, Penfolds Grange and Inniskillin Ice Wine.

Also offered are numerous large-format bottles, as well as rare vintages of Château d'Yquem, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Vega Sicilia Unico, Angelo Gaja Barbarescos, Champagne and Vintage Port. Estimates were in keeping with average prices contained in the second quarter 2002Wine Spectator Auction Index.

All of the lots came from private collections, with the exception of one lot of Zind-Humbrecht Vendanges Tardives 1994 from the LCBO. About 110 consignors -- the vast majority from Ontario, along with one major collector from Quebec -- provided the lots. Evaluations and inspections were conducted by Robert Jull, proprietor of Vinifera Wine Services, who has done appraisals for most of Ontario's charity auctions for the past eight years.

Buyers will be charged a premium of 15 percent, plus federal and provincial taxes. Foreign buyers can apply for a tax rebate if taking possession of their purchases, but they can also avoid the taxes completely if the purchases are shipped directly to their country of residence.

Auction organizers have arranged for shipping to temperature-controlled warehouse facilities in New York and California through Wine Markets International, a Woodbury, N.Y.—based importer. Fees range from US$100 per case (for one to four cases) to $80 per case (for shipments in excess of 30 cases). The cost covers transport, U.S. customs clearing charges and taxes, and two months of storage. Additional charges will apply for delivery to the U.S. customer via a licensed retail merchant in compliance with individual state regulations.

Stephen Ranger of Ritchie's Auctioneers and Appraisers -- Canada's leading auctioneer of fine art, antiques and estates -- will conduct the sale on behalf of the LCBO.

The 160-page catalog should be available online as an Acrobat PDF file at www.lcbo.com and www.vintages.com as of Oct. 14.

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Full-access subscribers can view recent auction results and analyses, upcoming events and the Wine Spectator Auction Index in the Collecting section of our site.

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