The Liquor Control Board of Ontario surpassed all expectations with its first commercial wine auction, staged Nov. 9 and 10 at the Design Exchange in Toronto. The event exceeded presale estimates with a C$2.2 million gross (US$1.4 million), inclusive of the 15 percent buyer's premium, and a strong 90 percent sold rate for the 1,416 lots on offer.
The LCBO, the government-owned monopoly that controls all sales of wine and spirits in Ontario, partnered with Ritchie's Auctioneers and Appraisers. All previous wine auctions in the Canadian province had been conducted on behalf of charities.
The atmosphere in the packed hall was generally low-key, although bidding seemed frenzied at times. "There was a lot of excitement in the room, especially among first-time buyers," said Lilia Lozinski, a private collector who snared some Opus One 1991, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1990 and several top vintages of Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon in the final half-hour of the two-day sale.
Early lots went for well over the top estimates, including a two-bottle lot of La Tâche 1971 that sold for C$2,415 (US$1,542), almost double the projected high of C$1,300.
In fact, many of the LCBO estimates -- and hammer prices -- exceeded the averages in the Wine Spectator Auction Index by more than 50 percent. A case of Château de Beaucastel 1989 soared above its top estimate to fetch C$3,451 (US$2,204) -- 63 percent above the wine's average price for the third quarter of 2002. Six bottles of Dominus 1994 brought C$3,679 (US$2,350) -- up 170 percent.
"This was both a serious commercial auction and a historic event," said Stephen Ranger, senior vice president of Ritchie's. "The first day, there were a lot of tourists, but on the second day, it was very commercial, with a large number of restaurateurs and some serious collectors."
The top-selling lot, a complete vertical of Château Mouton-Rothschild from 1945 to 1999 (including two versions of the 1978 Riopelle label and both renditions of the controversial 1993 Balthus label), sold to an anonymous bidder for C$54,625 (US$34,888). It was the fifth such vertical sold by longtime collector Ken Arsenault in the past five years. Last year, he sold an identical lot to a Quebec casino for C$60,000 (US$38,222). Arsenault, an Ottawa real-estate developer and owner of Stoney Ridge Cellars, consigned nearly 800 bottles to the sale.
"These prices make my wine list look cheap," said Tony Amaro, owner of Opus restaurant in Toronto, which holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award. Nevertheless, Amaro spent more than C$50,000 (US$31,935), all on Bordeaux, including cases of Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande 1982, Château Figeac 1982 and a score of wines from the 1989 vintage. "The California wines and the super-Tuscans were all out of sight," Amaro said. "I sell them at the restaurant for less."
His remarks were echoed by a seasoned American collector, David Solomon, who attended the Toronto sale. "I didn't even raise my paddle for the first 500 lots of the sale, because I could source the same wines for nearly half the price at comparable New York auctions."
Not everyone seemed to mind, though. Robert Egan, the executive director of food and beverage for Casino Niagara, said, "Many people, including myself, paid too much, but I can't keep anything on my list. My clientele buys everything in my cellar." Egan spent C$103,000 (US$65,786) on DRC and other Burgundies, Guigal Côte-Rôties and fine Bordeaux.
Barry O'Brien, the LCBO's director of corporate affairs and project leader for the auction, expressed surprise and joy at the results. "When we initiated the idea of an auction, we thought we might reach C$1 million," he said. "This has far exceeded all our expectations. We'll be doing this again, soon. People no longer have to leave the province to buy rare wines."
-- Peter D. Meltzer contributed to this article
LCBO AUCTION HIGHLIGHTS
(All prices in U.S. dollars. All percent change figures based on the third quarter 2002 Wine Spectator Auction Index.)
|A&F Gros Richebourg 1993||11 bottles||$1,102||31%|
|Château de Beaucastel 1989||12 bottles||$2,204||63%|
|Château Cos-d'Estournel 1982||12 bottles||$2,791||44%|
|Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet 1996||6 bottles||$1,322||-61%|
|Dominus 1994||6 bottles||$2,350||170%|
|Château Léoville Barton 1990||6 bottles||$735||-21%|
|Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Clos des Ducs 1996||6 bottles||$588||158%|
|Château Palmer 1983||12 bottles||$2,571||29%|
|Penfolds Grange Hermitage Bin 95 1982||6 bottles||$2,057||43%|
|Château Pétrus 1982||12 bottles||$17,628||-27%|
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