November 22, 2011 / 9:10 PM / 7 years ago

Weak global economy fails to dampen fine wine sales

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In good times collectors buy fine wines and in bad times they buy even more, the latest wine auction figures show.

Leading wine auction houses are reporting bumper results for 2011. Christie’s sales have totaled $77.7 million globally, more than last year’s $70 million and there are auctions scheduled for Amsterdam, London and Hong Kong before the end of the year.

“Despite the bleak news of the weak economy globally and last week’s markets, I have to tell you, I’m still encouraged. There is a lot of interest and a lot of buyers” for wines that can sell for tens of thousands of dollars a bottle, said Robin Kelley O’Connor of Christie’s.

The auction house sold $1.2 million of wine in New York on Saturday, including six bottles of Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 1911 for $66,000, which were auctioned for The Lunchbox Fund, a charity that provides meals for children.

The bottles had been found in the 18 miles of tunnels beneath the chateau’s estate.

John Kapon of Acker, Merrall & Condit sold $2.4 million of wines on Saturday including a Salmanazar, a bottle that holds the equivalent of nine liters of wine, for $20,740.

Kapon estimates business is up 15 percent over last year.

“People work hard and drink harder,” he said.

With two more auctions still scheduled for December, in New York and Hong Kong, Kapon expects a total of more than $100 million for the year.

Although Sotheby’s wine sales of $82,001,258 are slightly behind last year, the auction house has one more auction in London where sales are expected to reach as much as $3.4 million.

“There are two factors: there is less wine coming to market and the prices are a little softer,” Sotheby’s Jamie Ritchie said.

All of the auction houses said the Asian market, which drove up Bordeaux prices, has shifted its focus to Burgundy, a much smaller region that produces less.

“It’s a natural progression to move from Bordeaux to Burgundy, but it’s not as if they’ve abandoned Bordeaux. I think we will see a healthy market with a bit more cautious pricing,” Ritchie said.

Richard Harvey, of London-based Bonhams auction house described 2011 as “a fantastic year ... with sales totals well up on 2010.

“Although the market has eased off slightly in the second half of the year for top Bordeaux, particularly Chateau Lafite, this has been more than compensated by the rise in prices of top Burgundy, notably (Domaine de la) Romanee-Conti.”

Bonhams sold a case of the 1990 vintage for $198,000 in September. After its final three sales in December it expects to top last year’s nearly $13 million in sales.

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