Out of the Gate, Wine Auctions Disappoint


Two recent Hong Kong auctions indicate flagging interest: Sotheby’s and Acker, Merrall & Condit sold 85% and 91%, respectively, of their lots last weekend, compared with sold-out events the same time last year.

Sales from the two auctions, in addition to a Zachys auction earlier in January, generated 145.5 million Hong Kong dollars (US$18.7 million), a 45% decline from the same three sales in 2011.

Those in the auction business are keeping a brave face. “It’s normal in this stage of evolution,” said Robert Sleigh, head of wine for Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. “We had three years of extraordinary growth, and there were a lot of people who bought a lot of wine in a short period of time. The market will take a breather now.”

According to the Liv-ex Fine Wine 100 Index, which tracks the prices of the world’s most collected wines and is almost entirely composed of top bottles from Bordeaux, prices have fallen 22% since their peak in June of last year.

Meanwhile, some say there hasn’t been a better time to pick up bargains.

Jason Ginsberg, who runs Wine Merchants Asia in Hong Kong, said he bought a case of 1988 Mouton Rothschild at a December auction run by Acker, at a price that he estimates was 30% lower than at the peak of the market last summer.

“We’ve bought some great stuff at great deals,” he said. “The auction room used to be dominated by people who were spending without thinking. Now they’re holding back, and people aren’t speculating anymore. Those who buy now are buying to hold and drink.”

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