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Wine to 5: Charlie Foley – Wine auctioneer, Christie’s

Inside a wine professional’s everyday life... Charlie Foley is a specialist and auctioneer for Christie’s wine department.

Charlie Foley hosts auctions internationally for Christie’s, wine festivals and charities. He has an obsession with garish-coloured clothes, white Burgundy and bath salts. He can be found at @c.t.foley on Instagram

How did you get here?

Ma and Pa are foodies – they whip something up and slosh something in a glass and set the world to rights. And I have tried to be likewise, always chasing the next glass. Sauvignon powering a Classics degree at uni, Rioja after a night working a restaurant floor, Malbec before hitting the hay at an Argentinian winery and now off vintages of claret (we gotta sell the solid years!) in chilly, cobwebby cellars.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The people! It’s gotta be right, margins are tight and time zones aren’t beauty sleep’s friend. But meeting producers and lovers of this luscious liquid is worth the extra cucumber slices. Everyone, from winemaker to wine collector, auctioneer to wine writer has a story to tell about a bottle that has marked them.

And the worst?

If I complained about this job, I would need my head looking at!

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

That it’s all glitz, glam and grandeur. We are in the business of theatre really. Behind all that is hours on Excel, days in damp, dungeon-like cellars, and meetings to discuss meetings. But, like any good show, all the preparation is what makes auction day a glittering success. Plus a colourful suit and a well-polished gavel, of course.

Your greatest moment?

I have been lucky to work with the late, great Michael Broadbent MW. When we packed up the Avery family cellar in Somerset, Michael drove down for dinner. He appeared in a white panama suit and hat and we decanted the Burgundies on the terrace. He talked me through the vintages and took notes in his red book. Yes it’s a bit of a Bertie Wooster moment, I know, but characters like him are once in a lifetime. I will remember it always.

Is there one particularly memorable bottle that has passed through your hands as an auctioneer?

One lot! How cruel. Here’s two. The Macallan 1926 single malt which I hammered for £1.2 million was a proper bum-clencher of a lot – I just pretended it was Monopoly money as I worked up those bid steps. Also last year’s Grand Constance 1821, a bicentennial offering in Stellenbosch – I boshed it down for ZAR420,000 (£20,470), before the auction room erupted to 10 minutes of cheering. Magic.

What advice would you give someone keen to follow in your footsteps?

Four-fifths of your salary should be spent on clothes. Clothes = confidence and creativity, and with those magic Cs, the world is your oyster. Seriously, I have three rules: be quick, be funny, be humble. Presentation and sales are tricky, and the best results are achieved if you keep things short, light and about anyone else but yourself. Just watch The Apprentice and do the opposite.

What do you enjoy drinking at home?

Gin! I immerse myself in bathtubs of it! And tonic, of course. Otherwise I drink to suit whatever telly I am watching: Champagne for Emily in Paris, Napa Cabernet for Succession and Païs if Narcos is on. I’m an eclectic drinker and TV binger.

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