HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Asian vintage lovers helped boost auction house Sotheby's wine sales so far this year to $19.2 million, far exceeding estimates and defying the downturn.
Some 97 percent of all lots at the nine wine auctions held in the first half of the year were sold at prices that far surpassed the top-end estimate of $14.6 million for the sales, Sotheby's said in a statement.
Asians clients were the most active at auctions held in New York, London and Hong Kong, constituting nearly 60 percent of all Sotheby's buyers.
"We are excited to be able to report such strong results," Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's International Wine department, said in the statement. "These results particularly show our client relationships in Asia, where buyers are currently driving the recent rebound in prices."
Several U.S.-based auctioneers have said that Asian buyers were saving the fine wine market, helping prices that had fallen by as much as 40 percent in the last half of 2008 to rebound by some 20 percent.
Sotheby's said the highlight of the auctions in New York and Hong Kong was the two-part sale of some 9,000 bottles of fine vintages from the cellars of a top American wine collector who wanted to remain anonymous.
The sale netted some $8.6 million, the second-highest total ever achieved at a Sotheby's wine auction. All lots in the Hong Kong auction were sold, underscoring the city's aspirations to become Asia's main wine hub following the abolition of wine duties in 2008.
Sotheby's launch of a combination of online bidding with a live audio and video feel helped boost sales in the past six months, the auction house said, with some of the top buyers participated online, including the sixth-largest buyer by value.
Asia is not traditionally a wine drinking region, but that is changing fast, as growing ranks of affluent, young and often Westernized professionals make it their beverage of choice.
Wine imports into Hong Kong have grown year-on-year to $387 million and the city has hosted several wine auctions by international houses, which although they haven't matched pre-crisis levels, have been robust.
Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Bill Tarrant