Rob Rosania, a New York real-estate developer and noted wine collector, raised his paddle and left it there. “150, 160, 170, 180, 200,” auctioneer Jamie Ritchie rattled off in rapid fire, as if he was counting. Those numbers were actually thousands of dollars, salvos in a bidding war between Rosania and an unidentified online bidder at Sothebys’ auction of wines from Burgundy legend Robert Drouhin’s personal cellar on Oct. 13. The prize at stake was a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1945.
At $558,000 (including the buyer’s premium and taxes), Rosania conceded. But he purchased the next lot, the second 750ml bottle of Romanée-Conti 1945 in the auction, for $496,000. The two lots both shattered the previous auction record for a single bottle, a jeroboam of Mouton-Rothschild 1945 that sold for $310,700 in 2007.
“That’s why I was here,” Rosania told Wine Spectator after the session. “I thought it would go for $250,000 to $400,000.”
Rosania also snagged the next lot, one bottle of Romanée-Conti 1943, for $68,200, including fees. The ’45s were more hotly contested for several reasons: Decimated by frost and hail, the 1945 growing season was hot overall, producing just 600 bottles of concentrated and long-lived wines. And Romanée-Conti’s vines had been planted prior to the devastation of Burgundy’s vines from phylloxera. The vines, still on their own roots, were pulled out after the 1945 harvest.
Most important, the two bottles came from Drouhin’s personal collection. His family company Maison Joseph Drouhin distributed the wines of DRC from 1928 until 1964. The provenance was impeccable.
In a little more than two hours, Ritchie, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Wine knocked down $7.3 million in rare Burgundy. More than 90 percent of the sale was rare bottles of DRC, vintages 1937 to 1964, from the Drouhin cellar. Many lots sold at three to four times the high estimate, with several going for seven, eight, even 10 times the catalog price. Bidding was competitive, mostly by telephone and online clients.
Robert Drouhin was impressed with the sale. “The estimate of many wines seemed low to me, knowing their quality and scarcity, whatever the motivation of the wine lovers or collectors,” he said. “But I was amazed.”
“My first thought was for my father, Maurice Drouhin, who oriented Joseph Drouhin to the upper level of quality and created links with the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti,” he added. “My second thought was for Burgundy in general, my family and Joseph Drouhin, the prestige which they will gain from it.”
Nonetheless, he cautioned against the feverish demand for Burgundy. “For its first and grands crus, Burgundy is in a luxury world. Let us hope it will not disturb the mentality. Burgundy estates should not be a field for investments. I wish our terroir remains in the hands of families. Personally I have already ensured the transmission to my grandchildren and hopefully the family ethic.”
This sale follows a record-breaking June auction in Geneva of the remaining bottles of Henri Jayer’s personal cellar. Both offered impeccable provenance, giving collectors around the globe the opportunity to bid on extremely rare, pristine bottles. Burgundy remains the king of wine auctions.
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