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Economy impacts on US wine auctions

The recent economic downturn has had an impact on wine auctions in the US, with significantly fewer lots being sold.

Normally, 80 to 100% of lots are sold, but recent revenues have fallen substantially and lot prices in three New York City auctions suggest the onset of a buyer’s market.

At NYWines/Christie’s, on 25 October only 67% of 641 lots were sold, bringing in US$595,476; the pre-sale low estimate was $979,000.

At Aulden Cellars/Sotheby’s on 28 October, 70% of 190 lots found buyers, generating $2,156,523, also much lower than the pre-sale low estimate.

After its 18 October auction, Acker Merrall & Condit reported that 100% of lots, from Swiss collector Wolfgang Grünewald, went for $4,442,406 against a pre-sale $4,977,330 high estimate.

Although it is technically accurate, Acker’s 100% sell-rate claim can be understood as misleading. Numerous lots in the sale were passed up but, following the auction, Grünewald reduced their reserve prices to make them more inviting in post-sale transactions.

At Zachys’ inaugural auction in Hong Kong on 25 October, 85% of 871 lots was sold for $5,201,503, under the $5,655,590 pre-sale low estimate. The high estimate was an ambitious $8,627,400.

Jamie Ritchie, head of Sotheby’s North American wine department, said the market was slowing down.

‘The price of wine, particularly at the higher end, has gone through a two-year period of unprecedented increases,’ he said. ‘Not surprisingly, we now see a period of price adjustments.’

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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