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Wine auctions fetch over US$160m in 2009

The major wine auction houses have posted year-end revenues totalling over US$160m (£100m), including both traditional and online sales.

Christie’s sold the most – just over US$50m (£31.5m), while Acker Merrall & Condit fetched US$44m (£27m) and Sotheby’s, just under US$42m (£26.6m).

The latter technically also achieved the highest internet sales (which it held for the first time in 2009) when a South American collector bid US$102,850 (£64,000) online for a single lot vertical of David Alvarez Vega Sicilia.

Christie’s and Acker Merrall each earned around US$5m (£3.1m) online.

Chicago-based Hart Davis Hart, which achieved US$24m (£15.1m), also held the largest single-owner auction in the US, netting US$4.6m (£2.8m) – while Bloomsbury entered the wine market in partnership with New York’s Sokolin, luring buyers with a buyer’s premium of 17%, the lowest anywhere.

Auctioneers’ year-end assessments were upbeat, particularly since prices have risen since the beginning of the year.

‘To be honest, we were a bit concerned early on,’ Stephen Mould, head of Sotheby’s European wine department told decanter.com.

‘Although 2008 was good year for us, prices came off a bit toward the end and we decided to bring our estimates down by 20-25%. But sales have far exceeded expectations. We’ve been gobsmacked by the excitement and turnout at some of the sales. We’ve had our fourth best year to date.’

John Kapon, president and auction director of Acker Merrall, corroborated.

‘Prices came down a lot in the first half of the year – we were making 30% less on the same wine sold in 2008. But the market has recovered dramatically, and we’re ecstatic about how the year has gone. ‘

Hong Kong continued to be a hotspot for these houses as well as New York’s Zachys, for both local activity and as a source of buyers for sales abroad.

Christie’s and Acker Merrall achieved the majority of their revenue in Hong Kong, and also their top-selling lots: the former, a 78-bottle collection of 1999 Domaine de la Romanée Conti for over HK$1.4m (£113,000) and the latter, 12 bottles of 1982 Château Pétrus for HK$726,000 (£59,000).

Richard Harvey MW of Bonhams, which held seven sales in London in 2009 – two more than usual – sees local potential where others have shifted their focus.

‘Our US experts Hong Kong may be the new driver for prices and sales, but the bulk of the stock going there is US stock,’ he said.

‘In London, the closure of Christie’s South Kensington and the fact that they have reduced their sales here means they have had to turn away a lot of clients and stock that we’ve been able to take on.’

David Elswood, international head of wine sales at Christie’s (which held two sales in Hong Kong in 2009 after an eight year hiatus), called the Asian market ‘overhyped and grossly overcrowded with auctions and suppliers’.

He predicts 2010 will be a year of reckoning.

‘We will undoubtedly see a shake-down of operators in the wine auction sector as the global expertise and reputation of the principal players becomes more clear to buyers.’

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Written by Maggie Rosen

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