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Sotheby’s Scores Big with Bill Koch's $21.9 Million Wine Auction

Billionaire collector offers 20,000 bottles of rarities in a sale that brings in one of the highest wine auction totals in history
With an image of Bill Koch's cellar behind him, Jamie Ritchie of Sotheby's oversaw bidding in New York; the auction brought in $21.9 million.
Photo by: Courtesy Sotheby's Wine
With an image of Bill Koch's cellar behind him, Jamie Ritchie of Sotheby's oversaw bidding in New York; the auction brought in $21.9 million.

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: May 24, 2016

Sotheby's New York auctioned off 20,000 bottles of fine and rare wine from the cellar of billionaire collector Bill Koch in a three-day sale from May 19 to 21. The consignment fetched a staggering $21.9 million, topping the presale high estimate of $15 million by 46 percent. The sale total was one of the highest ever achieved by a wine auction.

Heated bidding came from the floor, the order (bids placed prior to the auction), the telephone and Internet bidding, sending prices soaring above their estimates. Sotheby’s received over 20,000 bids from buyers in 23 countries. All 2,730 lots sold.

What distinguished Koch’s collection was the breadth, depth and quality of selection. From the outset, Koch sourced the best wines from the best regions. He stored them impeccably in a state-of-the-art, high-tech cellar beneath his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla.

While Koch became famous among collectors for his dogged legal campaign after he discovered numerous counterfeit wines in his cellars, he and Sotheby's went to great lengths to authenticate everything consigned.

“With around 43,000 bottles I realized I could not possibly consume everything in my cellar,” Koch said in a written statement. “So I am delighted to offer this selection to allow collectors all over the world to enjoy the glorious moments that come with these wines.”

The Koch collection was largely French, weighted toward first-growths and other classified Bordeaux wines with a strong selection of premium Burgundies from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a smattering of Rhône reds, California and Italian estate wines and Vintage Port.

This sale was replete with showstoppers. Foremost were 10 bottles of the highly celebrated Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945, which sailed above the presale estimate of $120,000 to bring in $343,000. It went to an anonymous—and determined—telephone bidder.

Heated bidding was not limited to first-growths and their equivalents. Second-growths also experienced strong demand. A case of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2000 brought $3,910 against a high estimate of $2,200, which was also 93 percent above the wine's recent average sale price in the Wine Spectator Auction Price Database.

Six magnums of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1989 brought $171,500 (61 percent above its estimate). A case of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 1978 sold for $147,000 against a high estimate of $75,000. Large-format wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti met with strong demand. A methuselah of DRC Romanée-Conti 1991 exceeded its presale estimate of $100,000 to bring $159,200.

Asked whether the sale’s elevated prices were surprising, Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby’s Wine, replied with an emphatic no. “This was an opportunity of a lifetime for collectors," he told Wine Spectator. "They were prepared to spend more money to acquire wines of impeccable quality that rarely surface at auction.”

At the sale’s conclusion Koch reflected, “Collecting and enjoying wine has been one of the great loves of my life. It is very gratifying to see so many people from around the world that share my passion.”

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