Bonhams and Acker Merrall & Condit plan to hold auctions in Hong Kong soon in an effort to cater to affluent China's soaring taste for fine and rare wines.

The arrival of auctions could make that commercial city the world’s third most important auction center after New York and London. About 40% of vintage wines sold in London wind up in China.

Bonhams, London’s third largest auction house, will conduct its sale in April, though the date and place have not been announced.

John Kapon, president of New York-based Acker Merrall & Condit, will hold its sale in the luxurious Island Shangri-La hotel on May 31.

Kapon, who visited Hong Kong in August, told Bloomberg, ‘More and more of our business is going to Asia. I couldn’t believe no one had done a wine auction in several years, and I thought the timing was right.’

Kapon said today in a news release, ‘We have already procured consignments from two of Europe’s and six of America’s finest collections. The quality of wine for this sale is staggering.’

He estimated this portfolio at about US$3m. ‘It should prove to be the largest wine auction ever conducted in all of Asia,’ he said.

Acker will hold a second auction in November and ‘at least two auctions a year in Hong Kong’ if the May auction succeeds, Kapon told Bloomberg. About 15% of all its sales at auction go to Asian residents, he said.

David Elswood, international head of wine sales at Christie’s, said the house did not have definite current plans to auction wine in Hong Kong but would like to resume such auctions in the future. Its last wine sale there was held in 2001.

Frank Martell, Bonhams’ international wine director, said Hong Kong’s ‘thirst for top-level wines is growing at an exponential rate.’

In recent years, America’s auction houses have routinely reported rising sales in Japan,Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere in China.

‘Historically, a large portion of wines purchased was kept overseas which may now be brought back to Hong Kong without penalty,’ Martell said.

‘This could prove to be the most significant event in the history of wine as a commodity, as the entire wine-drinking population in the East can now participate in an unfettered manner. I feel strongly that Hong Kong will prove to be the centre of trade for fine and rare wines in the East.’

  • Bloomberg also reported that after posting a record surplus, the Hong Kong government ended taxes on wine, effectively immediately.

    Tommy Cheung, a legislator and chairman of the Hong Kong Wine and Spirits Industry Coalition, told Bloomberg that scrapping the taxes may help Hong Kong become the world’s third-biggest hub for wine auctions after London and New York.

    Boris de Vroomen, who Bloomberg said leads a venture in Hong Kong between Diageo and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said that as much as US$642m worth of vintage wine could be sold yearly in Hong Kong.

    Vinexpo is holding its 2008 Asia-Pacific exhibition in Hong Kong from May 27-29.

    Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York