Expect competition among wine auction houses to heat up this summer as a new player enters the field. International auction house Bloomsbury Auctions Inc., which is based in London, and New York fine-wine merchant Sokolin Co. are teaming up to create a new wine division. Their first auction will be held June 19 in New York.
This is a curious time to enter the fray, since the wine auction market has shown no immunity to the global economic turmoil that began last fall. The Wine Spectator Auction Index marked a 15 percent decline in the second half of 2008—the largest drop the index has seen since its inception in 1995. The data from the first quarter of 2009 shows that overall revenue has been roughly cut in half since the same time last year.
Yet Bernard Frelat, CEO of Bloomsbury, which conducts auctions primarily for rare books, manuscripts and works on paper, sees an opportunity with wine: "It's always a good time to come into a market with a good concept."
"I think we have an edge," explained David Sokolin, president of Sokolin Co. "We broke new ground by taking photos of every lot being offered, so you're going to be able to see how the lot looks before you buy it. And we have a guarantee, where if the wine isn't as described, you have the right to return it."
Bloombury's guarantees will be lengthier and more extensive than other auction houses'. Buyers will have six months to return damaged wines and a year to send back wines if they think their purchase does not match the photographs. In addition, Bloomsbury will charge a 17 percent buyer's premium, slightly lower than the 18 percent to 21 percent seen elsewhere in New York.
The June auction features wines from a single cellar, with most bottles in their original wooden cases. Highlights include a magnum of 1989 DRC La Tâche, multiple lots of first-growth Bordeaux and a six-pack of 1985 Sassicaia.
Sokolin, who had been looking for the right opportunity to enter the wine auction market, thinks that their venture will be particularly attractive to remote bidders. "This will be a global online auction. I think the visual look and the guarantee lends itself to faraway buyers to feel comfortable with what they are buying."
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