From the first quarter to the second quarter of 2009, the overall performance at commercial auctions of the wines tracked in the Wine Spectator Auction Price Database was essentially flat. With an insignificant difference between the two quarters, the wine-auction market underperformed the Dow Jones, the Standard & Poor 500 and the Nasdaq, which gained 11 percent, 15.2 percent and 20 percent, respectively. However, other auction data shows important shifts in the wine resale market: Blue-chip wines averaged a 10 percent increase and more auctions notched sales totals that exceeded their presale high estimates, indicating more competitive bidding took place.
Fine wines were still selling for less in the second quarter of 2009 than they did at their peaks a few years ago. Domestically, 17,169 lots brought $57,498,824 in the second quarter of 2008, compared to 14,031 lots of rare wine that sold for a total of $28,279,423 in the second quarter of 2009—a more than 50 percent drop in total sales and a nearly 40 percent drop in price per lot from 2008 to 2009. However, second-quarter 2009 sell-through rates averaged 94 percent, 1 percent higher than during the same period of 2008, suggesting there are willing takers at the new, reduced estimates. Hart Davis Hart was the industry leader with an impressive 100 percent-sold average.
Some bottles posted large gains. Château Margaux 1978 rose 280 percent from the first to the second quarter to average $570 per bottle. Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 1969 averaged $1,950 per bottle (up 158 percent) and Château Ausone 1995 averaged $504 per 207 bottle, a gain of 143 percent. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1966 rose 100 percent to average $6,000 per bottle and Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Hillside Select 1994 averaged $378 per bottle, up 47 percent.
Laggards in the second quarter included Chablis Bougros 1996, which fell 69 percent from its first quarter average to $56 per bottle. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive Riserva 1985 fell 49 percent to average $292 per bottle. Dominus Estate Napa Valley 1999 dropped 30 percent to average $63 per bottle.
Selectively, the second quarter presented numerous buying opportunities for collectors. And collectors were willing to place more competitive bids: While only two out of 11 auctions in the first quarter of 2009 bested the presale high estimate, five out of 14 did so in this past quarter.
Auction specialists largely concurred on the reasons behind advances in the current auction circuit. Jamie Ritchie, Sotheby's North American wine-auction director, attributes the renewed demand to continued growth in interest from a worldwide audience, particularly new bidders from Asia. Jeff Zacharia, Zachys' president and auction director speculates that since the wine-auction market has been much more stable than other financial markets, people feel comfortable buying and holding wines.
Charles Curtis, Christie's North American wine-auction director believes the rebound is due to an increase in consumer confidence. “More specific to our market is the widespread sense that the correction that occurred last fall made wine affordable again to many consumers and collectors who were feeling priced out of the market,” Curtis said. “The reassuring interest from buyers faced with lower estimates has in turn encouraged consignors, and there has been some very interesting wine coming to market."
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