Sotheby's auction house and the prominent London wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd are attempting to form a partnership to hold wine auctions in New York.
The two companies have applied to the New York State Liquor Authority for a permit to acquire Sotheby's present retail partner, Aulden Cellars. If approval is granted, Berry Bros. will operate a shop featuring fine and rare wines on the premises of Sotheby's York Avenue location.
"We have not created a joint venture as yet," said Jamie Ritchie, Sotheby's senior vice president. He would become CEO of an entity known as Berry Bros. Rudd & Sotheby's if the state liquor authority approves the permit. "We have been in discussion with Berry Bros. for some time, and by combining forces as a fully integrated entity, we concluded we could bring more to the table in New York."
Under New York law, any auction house that wishes to sell wine in the state must do so in partnership with a retail licensee of 10 years standing. When Sotheby's debuted wine sales in New York in 1994, it joined forces with Manhattan retailer Sherry-Lehmann -- a partnership that lasted until 1999. In 2000, Sotheby's teamed up with a newly formed entity called Aulden Cellars, a Long Island retailer originally known as Sunrise Liquor & Wine, which did not specialize in high-end labels.
Berry Bros. & Rudd is known for dealing in Bordeaux futures, rare Burgundies and other wines from top regions around the world. In addition to its historic location on St. James Street in London, it operates shops in Heathrow Airport, Dublin, Ire., and Hong Kong.
"Berry Bros., which was founded in 1698, has enormous experience in fine and rare wine, and its deputy chairman, Simon Berry, will take an active role in the operation," said Ritchie. "We believe this is the best way to grow both our retail and auction business."
Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's international wine department, said, "This is not a fait accompli, but the prospect of joining forces with a company that has the same enthusiasm for fine wine as we do is thrilling." She added that the venture would have no impact on Sotheby's London wine business because England's laws do not require a wine auctioneer to partner with a retailer.