December 28, 2010 / 11:07 AM / in 7 years

Wine auction sales top $350 million

<p>People attend the fine wine auction at Christie's in Geneva in this November 16, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Auction houses sold more than $350 million worth of wine worldwide in 2010, an amount roughly in line with or exceeding their pre-recession levels of 2007.

And all of them credited their sales in Hong Kong or Asian buyers for the spike in sales figures.

Sales in Asia were “particularly robust” said John Kapon, president and auction director of Acker Merrall & Condit, which reported total sales of $98.5 million for 2010.

“Hong Kong has now overtaken New York as the world’s largest wine auction center,” Kapon said.

Acker Merrall was the latest house to report following those of Sotheby‘s, which auctioned off more than $88 million worth of fine wines and Christie’s which said it had sold $71 million.

Christie’s head of wine sales in North America, Charles Curtis, is surrendering that title to take over the auction house’s operations in Hong Kong beginning in January.

“In Asia one must have a nuanced view of the market. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore there are relatively mature buyers. But in mainland China, there are the characteristics of a newer market,” he explained.

“In newer markets, they tend to focus on the topline stuff first,” Curtis said, which explains why sales of premier cru Bordeaux, such as Lafite-Rothschild and Haut Brion, have skyrocketed.

Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby’s International Wine Department, echoed Curtis’ observation, noting that many of Asia’s buyers ”are starting from scratch.

“They’re drawn to the Western lifestyle. They’re building big houses and want a cellar. It’s an important part of business and social life.”

Christie’s wines sales were right around those of 2007 before the global recession took hold.

Acker Merrall’s Kapon said his company’s Asia sales of $63.5 million represented a 206 percent growth over 2009. The remaining $28 million sold in New York represented a 55 percent increase from 2009.

Sotheby’s total of $88 million represented twice the amount of wine it sold in 2009.

Chicago-based Hart Davis Hart reported its yearly wine auction sales totaled $39.2 million, a 63 percent increase over 2009 and New York-based Zachy’s Wine Auctions, which also holds sales in Hong Kong, said it sold $56.6 million of wines.

Kapon expected that 2011 would be a banner year for sales overall and in Asia in particular and Curtis predicted “2011 will go through the roof” for auction prices of the top growths and big names.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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