Just a year after it opened for business, Wally's Auctions has snagged one of the world's most impressive collections of Burgundy for the auction block. Roy Welland, owner of the now-closed Cru, the New York restaurant that became a clubhouse to the city's top wine lovers, is consigning his collection to Wally's. The New York-based house plans to sell the 100,000-bottle trove at two auctions this fall, with some of the wines being offered in online auctions or at retail. Wally's staff estimates the collection is worth $15 million.
"It's a little heartbreaking to see it go," Welland told Wine Spectator. "But I'm looking forward to buying more wine." Welland would not go into detail but said he is selling the collection for personal reasons.
"The Roy Welland Collection is an unprecedented offering which Wally's is thrilled to bring to market," said Michael Jessen, Wally's Auctions president and CEO. "An enormous volume of this collection has been sourced directly from the producer or négociant."
A former financial trader and also a champion bridge player, Welland fell in love with wine and became a rabid collector quickly. By the time he opened Cru in Greenwich Village with wine director Robert Bohr and chef Shea Gallante in 2004, his wine collection formed the core of its 65,000-bottle cellar. The restaurant won a Wine Spectator Grand Award in 2005. Welland had a particular passion for Burgundy, even buying a tiny parcel of the grand cru Chambertin vineyard and leasing it to Domaine Dujac in return for a share of the wine.
Today the collection is in two locations. Half sits in a warehouse in New Jersey, with the other half in a warehouse in Beaune. Welland stopped buying at auction largely when the market grew expensive after 2005 and began buying direct from either Burgundy domaines or their agents. "Roy was very astute when he bought at auction," said Jessen.
While the wine auction market has grown slowly recently, demand for Burgundy has risen. And because the past few harvests have been small ones on the Côte d'Or, the appetite for older vintages has only grown. A collection of this size, much of it sourced direct from producers, will attract plenty of attention. The wine includes a total of 2,000 cases of Grand Cru Burgundy. There are 160 cases of Domaine Bachelet, 250 cases of Domaine Joseph Drouhin, 150 cases of Domaine Georges Roumier, 40 cases of Domaine Armand Rousseau and more than 750 cases of Chablis, including 200 cases of René & Vincent Dauvissat.
Welland was also a fan of Champagne, Piedmont and Austrian wines, and the collection also includes some Bordeaux and California wines. "One of Cru's employees visited a wine shop in Vienna years ago, and the owner was closing and didn't know what to do with all the inventory," said Welland. "So we have some incredible old vintages of Austrian wines."
Wally's Auctions was started in summer 2013, not long after brothers Armand, Maurice and Paul Marciano, founders of the fashion house Guess, bought control of Wally's Wine, one of Los Angeles' better-known retailers. Founder Steve Wallace was retiring and his partner Christian Navarro was looking for investors. Navarro and the Marcianos recruited Jessen and much of his team at Zachys Auctions and their first sale was in New York last November. Their most recent, on June 5, raised $2.8 million.
Welland spoke with several auction houses about consigning, but he felt Wally's made the best pitch. "[My collection] is not just rare wine, some is nice and drinkable now. I thought Christian and Michael had the most interesting program for selling the wines both at auction and retail," said Welland. "Also, because they're new, I think they're going to try really hard."
Jessen says the first auction will likely be in September in New York, with a second auction later in the fall in Los Angeles. Some of the wine will be sold in online auctions while others will be sold by Wally's retail team. "Even doing two sales, it's a lot of wine," said Jessen. Currently his team is cataloging the collection, checking the wines for quality and provenance. "It's a lot of fun, but it's also a challenge."